The COVID-19 Pandemic Predominantly Hits Poor Neighborhoods, or does it? Evidence from Germany
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Background Reports from the UK and the USA suggest that COVID-19 predominantly affects poorer individuals and neighbourhoods. This article paints a more complex picture by distinguishing between a first and second phase of the pandemic. The initial spread of infections and its correlation with socio-economic factors largely depends on how the virus first entered a country. The second phase of the pandemic begins when individuals start taking precautionary measures and governments implement lockdowns. In this phase the further spread of the virus depends on the ability of individuals to socially distance themselves, which is to some extent socially stratified. Methods We analyze the geographical distribution of known cases per capita across 401 local districts in Germany, once for infections in the initial phase and for new infections during the second phase. Results In Germany, the virus first entered via individuals returning from skiing in the Alps and other international travel. In this first phase we find a positive association between the wealth of a district and infection rates and a negative association with indicators of social deprivation. During the second phase, richer districts and districts with a higher share of university-educated employees record fewer new infections, whilst the initial safety advantage of more socially deprived districts disappears. Conclusion The social stratification of Covid-19 changes substantively across the two phases of the pandemic in Germany. Only in the second phase does socio-economic advantage turn into a safety advantage. Thus, suggestions that the pandemic predominantly hits the poor needs to be qualified.