Are the commenting classes worried about what the coronavirus might do to people living in poverty — or what its spread to poor people might do to them? A common reaction to the virus is driven by an open or implied fear that it will spread to the areas where poor people live, after which it will wreak havoc.

On the surface, this seems to express concern for millions who are struggling to get by. But poor people are usually seen by politics here not as an object of concern but as a problem: townships protests are taken far more seriously if they spill out onto roads and inconvenience motorists. The virus seems to be another case in which the real worry is not that bad things will happen to the poverty-stricken, but that what happens to them will be bad for the middle-class and the wealthy.

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