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Wealth can't mask all virus risks for the one-percenters

Guy Kelly


From Tom Hanks and Naomi Campbell to tech tycoons, Guy Kelly on how the super-rich are coping with Covid-19

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INFECTED: Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson

INFECTED: Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

INFECTED: Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson

The news that Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, are self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 shows that coronavirus is even less discriminate than we thought.

Nobody would be so naive as to assume that Hanks's two Oscars, nor his mammoth reserves of karma points would inoculate him against a global pandemic. But some may have believed his net worth, which is in excess of €300m might render him safer than most, not least because he simply has more survival options available to him.

Alas, early last Thursday morning, Hanks updated his 7.2 million Instagram followers to say that he and Wilson, who are in Australia while Hanks films Baz Luhrmann's upcoming Elvis Presley biopic, are two of the more than 100,000 coronavirus cases around the world. "Well, now. What to do next?" he wrote, captioning an image of some surgical gloves and a hospital bin. "We Hanks' [sic] will be tested, observed, and isolated for as long as public health and safety requires. Not much more to it than a one-day-at-a-time approach, no?"

Hanks and Wilson are the virus's most high-profile positive cases yet, but all last week, various members of the world's wealthiest one per cent have shown they're just as concerned by Covid-19 as the rest of us.

Last Sunday, 86-year-old Dame Joan Collins posted a photograph showing her wearing a black face mask. As a general rule in life, you know things are serious when Dame Joan is wearing accessories worth less than a house deposit. Somewhat surreally, she had a response from David Furnish, who told her masks "won't protect you", but advised "don't touch your face".

Teenage music phenomenon Billie Eilish was another seen in a protective mask. Kim Kardashian shared advice on how to greet somebody using only your feet. And celebrated germaphobe Naomi Campbell - never one to underdress, let alone underreact - appeared at LA airport wearing a hazmat suit, goggles and salmon pink latex gloves. "Safety first NEXT LEVEL," she wrote.

Clearly, Covid-19 really doesn't care about somebody's income, influence, assets or access to medical provisions. But that doesn't mean the super-rich aren't doing their best to spend their way out of harm's way.

Some are simply wearing better masks than the rest of us. Earlier last week, Gwyneth Paltrow modelled an "urban air mask", made by Swedish company Airinum, that sells for more than €80. Luxury brand Byredo offers €30 "Suede" alcohol hand sanitiser, which "gently unfurls with nuances of lily of the valley and violet before settling on a bed of soft musks". Both products are sold out.

Private doctors on Harley Street are said to be inundated by calls for the best care, quick access to coronavirus tests, and even enquiries about inoculation. They may be able to cut queues to care, but not tests and certainly not a vaccine, which is still some way off existing. It doesn't stop people trying.

Of course, that's if the 1pc haven't booked personal doctors and nurses (to go with their tutors, hairdressers, personal assistants...) to accompany them wherever they go. Private jet booking services have reported being besieged by requests from multinational firms and high net-worth individuals.

According to data from the business aviation monitoring company WingX, the number of private jet flights from Hong Kong to Australia and North America in January increased 214pc from the previous year. While commercial airlines are watching profits nosedive, in this part of the aviation sector business is booming: a round-trip from New York to London on a 12-seat Gulfstream IV is around €120,000 - 10 times that of a commercial first-class seat.

Some may be tempted to take those jets to far-flung private islands, where they can self-isolate on white sandy beaches. Sir Richard Branson has the option of heading to Necker, his 30-hectare paradise in the British Virgin Islands. Johnny Depp also has a spot in the Caribbean; Leonardo DiCaprio has one off Belize; and Steven Spielberg is said to own his own plot in the Madeira Archipelago.

However, given the coronavirus pandemic is now affecting almost every country on the planet, travel to a "safer" area doesn't necessarily guarantee safety (even a luxury resort in the Maldives has reported coronavirus cases), of course. Interpreting this problem, the wealthy come into their own.

In Kansas, a 15-storey underground structure exists called the Survival Condo. It is one of 72 built during the Cold War to protect against a ballistic missile, but it has since been modified, to the tune of $20m, for a new generation of ultra-rich preppers. It now includes a library, swimming pool, climbing wall, video arcade, bar, cinema and shooting range. Apartments cost between $1.5m and $4.5m.

From above, the Survival Condo - which has recently added information about Covid-19 to its website - looks like the sort of grass-covered mounds the Teletubbies lived in. In cross-section, it's a giant, Coca-Cola-can-shaped inverted tower block.

"Our design includes all infrastructure support for between 36 and 70 people for more than five years completely 'off-grid'," its website says. "The concrete walls in the facility are between 2.5ft and 9ft thick. There is just over 54,000sqft of underground, nuclear-hardened, protected space."

According to one report, one of the 55 individuals who have already purchased space in the condo had the view from her loft in New York filmed in all four seasons, so she could watch it on screens installed in lieu of windows inside her bunker.

Such bunkers are increasingly in demand. The Modern House, a Russian property firm, announced on Instagram last month that "at the request of customers, a system of protection against coronaviruses and radioactive dust is being developed".

But life without windows may not be for everyone, no matter how much loo roll you have with you. For billionaires still willing to risk life overground in the time of the apocalypse, there is always New Zealand. That's where Silicon Valley's brightest and best are off to. Peter Thiel, the US venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, owns a farm in the Land of the Long White Cloud, and is said to be one of a number of tech types drawn by its clean air, water and relative isolation.

His plan is brief: four years ago, Sam Altman, another influential Silicon Valley entrepreneur, revealed that in the event of some kind of global collapse - a pandemic, say - he and Thiel will get on a private jet and head to Thiel's 477-acre former sheep station. But they will have to hurry: to counter the spread of Covid-19, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's prime minister, is expected to announce new border restrictions soon.

The impression left by all this high-spend prepping is that the 1pc are just as unsure, just as worried, and just as susceptible to coronavirus as the rest of us - only they'll happily empty their bank accounts to up their chances. Their reaction could be enough to provoke further unease, so thank God for Gemma Collins, doyenne of reality television stars. She, too, took to Instagram last week.

"We can't let the economy crash because of a virus," she wrote, accompanying a video showing her in London's West End, champagne in hand, about to stimulate growth at a Gucci store. "We've gotta eat chocolate and carry on."

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent