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

She was told that the deadly virus “like a spasmodic cough” had spread to the country and had even hit the nearby city of Maicao. But she was skeptical that she was so close to home. “I don’t know if that’s true,” said 38-year-old Montiel, who is part of the country’s largest indigenous group, Wayu.

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

But for Montielse, a regular stay at home is a kind of death penalty.

Before locking, Angela would occasionally top up her SIM card to use WhatsApp, but she couldn’t recharge it from the lock. Without an internet connection, there is no way to “work remotely”. Angela knits traditional Wayuu mokila bags, but can’t sell them on the street under current restrictions.

Her family has so far survived 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 could bring the news. Otherwise they are in the dark.

“Looking like we don’t have TV, internet or anything else, we don’t know if it’s still happening or it will continue, so obviously we can’t go out or move around,” Montiel said. “We’re in despair.”

According to UN estimatesAlmost half of the total population – 46% – is still not connected to the Internet. For these people, locking up means missing direct access to vital public health information, remote operation capabilities. online learning. terms for telemedicine. digital food delivery, live religious services – wedding, and even funerals – as well as countless other ways in which we increasingly live our lives online.

Governments around the world are committed to providing universal access by 2020, but the digital divide is still deep and inequality is spreading beyond the grid.

People in poorer regions are less likely to be connected, such as women, the elderly, and those living in remote or rural areas. And in many cases the connection can be sensitive – the closure of offices, schools or public spaces, such as libraries and cafes, has prevented many from accessing it.

“We’ve always said that there are about 3.5 billion people who are not connected, but now we know that’s more, because quite a number of people who were connected in their workplaces and other public spaces no longer have that kind of access,” she said. Eleanor Sarpong, Deputy Director at Affordable Internet Alliance (A4AI).

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

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Sarpong hopes the crisis will break through pre-existing barriers to Internet access – from a lack of political will to regulatory barriers and data accessibility – to connect more worlds.

A4AI, a World Wide Web Foundation initiative founded by Tim Berners-Lee, recently shared a series of policy recommendations, urging governments, companies and civil society to take urgent action to get as many people online as possible during a pandemic. Among their immediate recommendations are: the abolition of consumer taxes on Internet services; reducing data costs for public websites; providing accessible data packages; extending the right to broadband; and the introduction of free public wifi infrastructure. Some are already taking these steps.

“Governments need to look at internet access, not as a luxury, but as a means that can transform their economies … I think it’s a wake-up call for them,” Sarpong said.

Digital birth gap

Digital technologies have quickly changed lives as we know them. But not everyone benefits equally, and many are lagging behind due to a lack of infrastructure, literacy and training.

In all the least developed countries in the world, exactly 19% of people are online, Men are 21% more likely to be connected – and that gender gap is only widening.

In India, an aggressive approach to digitalization has shifted most of the state’s online benefits – from meals to pensions. Even before the pandemic, the poorest were addicted to digital technology, even though half the population was offline.

The pandemic only heightened the irony of the situation.

When the crisis hit and 1.3 billion people in India were imprisoned, national informal economy ground to scream. When the government announced it would send direct cash transfers to vulnerable women, widows, senior citizens and people with disabilities over the three months starting April 1, that was welcome news. But, kept at home without smartphones, many failed to access 500 to 1,000 rupees ($ 6 to $ 13) for help.
People are waiting in front of the bank during the closing in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, on April 9th.

Lal Bai, a 65-year-old widow living in a remote village in Rajasthan, could not travel five miles to the nearest town to withdraw state cash and had no way to access state funds online, so she quickly found herself without food left at home.

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Saddened, Bai ended up on the doorstep of Ombati Prajapati, which runs a digital services store in her village. “She was the only one who could help me.”

Prajapati is among 10,000 “co-entrepreneurs” or digital entrepreneurs who have been trained and supported Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), a non-governmental organization based in New Delhi, in rural parts of the country. Amid the locks, they help provide basic digital services, including remote banking, which allows people like Bai to withdraw cash using a mobile, biometric ATM. They even help fight misinformation.

“Just because of the internet I can see what’s going on and tell others that they need to wash their hands regularly with soap, use disinfectants, wear masks,” said the 27th Prajapati. “I would not be able to help any of these people [if I had not learned how to use the internet], I couldn’t help myself either. “

Osama Manzar, a social entrepreneur and founder of DEF, says their work skills like Prajapati have shown how important it is to have digital infrastructure available to the last mile – especially during a disaster.

“Connecting and accessing the internet must be part of basic human rights. This must be taken into account in times of pandemic and disaster, just as you provide access to food or water. There must be a way to access data,” Manzar said.

Rich countries are also a problem

The digital divide has long been thought of as a development issue. But the pandemic highlighted that rich countries are also affected by digital shortages.

More than four in 10 low-income households in America do not have access to broadband, according to a Pew survey. And in the UK, 1.9 million households do not have internet access, while tens of millions more rely on pay-as-you-go services to set up internet.

“Sometimes people talk about Covid-19 as a big direct condition. But in fact, the way people experience closure is not at all the same,” said Helen Milner, CEO. A foundation of good things.
America's Surprising Basis for Inequality: The Internet

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

The British government recently launched a series of initiatives to help combat digital exclusion. Among the schemes is a new campaign, DevicesDotNow, which requires companies to donate devices, sims and mobile hotspots. The Good Things Foundation helps deliver devices to those who need help and training. So far, they have released almost 2,000 tablets
Among the recipients was Annette Addison, who lives alone in an apartment in Birmingham, central England and uses a wheelchair. Ago isolation, would go to her local community center to access the Internet and ask for help with disability payments. But without a smartphone, she says she felt isolated and in the dark about the status of her benefits.

“I didn’t get along at all. I was very lonely and depressed when the lock first started, but since I have a pill … when I feel lonely, I can talk to my grandchildren or daughters.” I had constant contact with them because they are always online. “

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

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

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

“This device is not just about instant support during Covid, but it opens the door, for parents and families, for aspirations and opportunities,” Shaikh said. Another 1,500 people are currently on the waiting list.

“The biggest challenge is who to choose?”

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

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