What does a coronavirus pandemic look like when you don't have internet

What does a coronavirus pandemic look like when you don’t have internet

She was told that a deadly “donkey cough” virus had spread to the country and even struck the nearby city of Macau. But she was skeptical that she was so close to home. “I don’t know if that’s true,” said Montiel, 38, who is part of the country’s largest indigenous group, Wayuu.

When the Colombian government issued a nationwide lock in late April, she and her husband were advised to stay home with their three children, keep their distance from other people, wash their hands and wear masks to avoid the virus, which is killed more than 365,000 people worldwide.

But for Montiels, the order to stay at home is a kind of death sentence.

Before the block, Angela occasionally recharged her SIM card to use WhatsApp, but failed to recharge it again after the block. Without an internet connection, there is no way to “work remotely”. Angela knits traditional Waychu mochila bags, but can’t sell them on the street under current restrictions.

For now, her family survives on emergency cash payments from the NGO Mercy Corps. It is impossible for her children to continue their education from home without access to school materials online. As for updates, they are waiting for phone calls from friends or family who can bring news. Otherwise, they are in the dark.

“Seeing that we don’t have TV, the internet or anything, we don’t know if it’s still going on or going on, so obviously we can’t go out or move,” Montiel said. “We are in despair.”

According to UN forecastsalmost half of the world’s population – 46% – is not yet connected to the internet. For these people, blocking means missing immediate access to vital public health information, opportunities for remote work,, online training,, appointments for telemedicine,, digital food supplies, live religious services – weddings, and even funerals – as well as the countless other ways in which we increasingly live our lives online.

Governments around the world are committed to universal access by 2020, but the digital divide continues and inequalities are growing offline.

People in poorer regions are less likely to be connected, as are women, the elderly and people living in remote or rural areas. And in many cases, connectivity can be weak – the closure of offices, schools or public spaces, such as libraries and cafes, has cut off access.

“We have always said that there are about 3.5 billion people who are not connected, but now we know that this is more, because quite a large number of people who have been connected at work and in other public spaces are already do not have this access, “said Eleanor Sarpong, deputy director at Affordable Internet Alliance (A4AI),,

“Covid-19 has shown that there is such a huge division and it actually comes as a shock to some governments. When they asked their employees to go to work from home … a lot of them couldn’t.”

Sarpong hopes the crisis will overcome long-standing barriers to Internet access – from a lack of political will to regulatory barriers and data availability – to connect more with the world.

A4AI, a World Wide Web Foundation initiative founded by Tim Berners-Lee, recently shared a set of policy recommendations calling on governments, companies and civil society to take urgent action to attract as many people online as possible during a pandemic. . Among their immediate recommendations are: the abolition of consumer taxes on Internet services; reduction of data charges for public websites; providing accessible data packets; extension of broadband quotas; and implementation of free public wifi infrastructure. Some are already taking these steps,,

“Governments should look at internet access, not as a luxury, but as a stimulus that can transform their economies … I think this is a wake-up call for them,” Sarpong said.

Digital gender difference

Digital technologies are rapidly revolutionizing life as we know it. But not everyone benefits equally and many are abandoned due to lack of infrastructure, literacy and training.

In the least developed countries in the world, simply 19% of people are onlineMen are 21% more likely than women to be related – and this gender gap is only widening.

In India, the aggressive approach to digitalisation has shifted most government benefits online, from rations to pensions. Even before the pandemic, the country’s poorest were dependent on digital technology, even though half the population was offline.

The pandemic only increased the irony of this situation.

When the crisis hits and 1.3 billion people in India have been imprisoned, the nation informal economy grind to a creaking stop. So when the government announced it would send direct remittances to vulnerable women, widows, senior citizens and people with disabilities for three months from April 1, that was welcome news. But, left without smartphones at home, many were unable to get help from 500 to 1,000 rupees ($ 6 to $ 13).
People are waiting in front of a bank during the blockade in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, on April 9.

Lal Bai, a 65-year-old widow living in a remote village in Rajasthan, could not travel the five miles to the nearest city to withdraw public money and did not have access to public funds online, so she quickly found herself without any food. , stayed at home.

Upset, Bai found herself on the doorstep of Ombati Prajapati, who ran a digital services store in her village. “She was the only one who helped me.”

Prajapati is among 10,000 “soochnapreurs” or digital entrepreneurs who have been trained and supported by Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), An NGO based in New Delhi, in rural areas of the country. Against the background of the blockade, they are helping to provide basic digital services, including remote banking, which allows people like Bai to withdraw cash through a mobile, biometric ATM. And even help fight misinformation.

“Only because of the Internet can I see what is happening and tell others that they should wash their hands regularly with soap, use disinfectant, wear masks,” said Prajapati, 27. “I could not help any of these people [if I had not learned how to use the internet]I couldn’t even help myself. “

Osama Manzar, a social entrepreneur and founder of the DEF, says their wives working as Prajapati have shown how important it is to have digital infrastructure to the last mile – especially in times of disaster.

“Connecting and accessing the internet must be part of fundamental human rights. It must be borne in mind that during a pandemic and disaster, just as you provide access to food or water, there must be a way to provide access to data.” said Manzar.

A problem for rich countries as well

The digital divide has long been seen as a development problem. But the pandemic underscored that rich countries are also affected by digital deprivation,,

More than four in 10 of America’s 10 low-income households do not have access to broadband, according to a Pew study. And in the United Kingdom, 1.9 million households do not have access to the Internet, while tens of millions more rely on pay-as-you-go services to access the Internet.

“Sometimes people talk about Covid-19 as a great level. But in fact, the way people experience blocking is not the same at all,” said Helen Milner, CEO of Foundation for good things, a UK charity that works with the government to attract more people online.
America's Surprising Place for Inequality: The Internet

“Digital exclusion for many people is just an extension of the social exclusion they face, and poverty is definitely part of that.”

The British government has recently launched a number of initiatives to support the experience and tackle digital exclusion. Among the schemes is a new campaign, DevicesDotNowwhich requires businesses to donate devices, sim and mobile hotspots. The Good Things Foundation helps deliver devices to those in need and supports training. So far, they have released nearly 2,000 tablets
Among the recipients was Annette Addison, who lives alone in an apartment in Birmingham, central England and uses a wheelchair to get around. Before closing, she will go to her local community center to get internet access and get help with her disability payments. But without a smartphone, she says she felt isolated and in the dark about the state of her strengths.

“I couldn’t do it at all. I was very lonely and depressed when the blockage first started, but because I had the tablet … when I feel lonely, I can talk to my grandchildren or my daughter.” I was in constant contact with them because they are always online. “

Why rural Americans have difficulty working from home

On May 1, Addison turned 60 years old. She celebrated with her grandchildren in a video chat on her new iPad – the same iPad she now uses to check her benefits portal. And she recently registered for a dating site. “I feel like a teenager,” she said.

But as governments try to introduce digital services to those most in need, the question remains: Who gets the device and who doesn’t?

Hafsha Sheikh, founder of SmartLyte, the digital skills center that distributed the Addison device, said it was an issue that haunted her.

“This device is not just about immediate support during Covid, but also about opening the gateway, for parents and families, to aspirations and opportunities,” Sheikh said. There are currently another 1,500 on the waiting list.

“The biggest challenge is who do I choose?”

CNN’s Swati Gupta and Jack Guy contributed to this report.

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