Global Data Community’s Response to COVID-19

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Opinion

Francesca Perucci is Chief, Development Data and Outreach Branch at the United Nations

Data Community’s Response to Covid-10. Credit: UNWDF Secretariat, UN Statistics Division

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 28 2020 (IPS) – The world is currently counting more than 42 million confirmed cases of the COVID-19 and over 1 million deaths since the start of the pandemic.1


The first quarter of 2020 saw a loss equivalent to 155 million full-time jobs in the global economy, a number that increased to 495 million jobs in the second quarter, with lower- and middle-income countries hardest hit.2

The pandemic is pushing an additional 71 to 100 million people into extreme poverty and, in only a brief period of time, has reversed years of progress on poverty, hunger, health care and education, disrupting efforts to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.3

While the virus has impacted everyone, it has affected the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most.

The pandemic has also demonstrated that timely, reliable and disaggregated data is a critical tool for governments to contain the pandemic and mitigate its impacts.

In addition, data on the social and economic impact have been essential to develop support programmes to reach those in need and start planning for a recovery that leads to a safer, more equal, inclusive and sustainable world for all.

Data and statistics are more urgently needed than ever before. While many countries are finding innovative ways to better data, statistical operations have been significantly disrupted by the pandemic.

According to a survey conducted in May 2020, 96 per cent of national statistical offices partially or fully stopped face-to-face data collection at the height of the pandemic.4

Francesca Perucci, UN Statistics Division. Credit: IISD/EBN | Kiara Worth

Approximately 150 censuses are expected to be conducted in 2020-2021 alone, a historical record. Yet, to address the urgent issues brought by the pandemic, some countries have diverted their census funding to national emergency funding.5

Seventy-seven out of 155 countries monitored for Covid-19 do not have adequate poverty data, although there have been clear improvements in the last decade.6

Behind these numbers there is a tremendous human cost. Despite an increasing awareness of the importance of data for evidence–based policymaking and development, data gaps remain significant in most countries, particularly in the ones with fewer resources.

In addition, the lack of sound disaggregated data for vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, older persons, indigenous peoples, migrants and others, exacerbates their vulnerabilities by masking the extent of deprivation and disparities and making them invisible when designing policies and critical measures.

The 2030 Agenda, with the principle of “leaving no-one behind” at its heart, underlines the need for new approaches and tools to respond to an unprecedented demand for high quality, timely and disaggregated data.

The UN World Data Forum

The UN World Data Forum was established as a response to the increased data demands of the 2030 agenda and as a space for different data communities to come together and find the best data solutions leveraging new technology, innovation, private sector and civil society’s contributions and wider users’ engagement.

The first and second World Data Forums in Cape Town and Dubai resulted in the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data and the Dubai Declaration.

These two forums addressed the new approaches required to the production and use of data and statistics not only by official statistical systems, but across broader data ecosystems where players from academia, civil society and the private sector play an increasingly important role.

This year, the UN World Data Forum, initially to take place in Bern, Switzerland, was held on a virtual platform because of the pandemic.

The virtual event allowed for a very broad and inclusive participation, with over 10,000 participants from 180 countries to showcase their answers to the challenges posted by the COVID-19 crisis, share their latest experiences and innovations, and renew the call for intensified efforts and political commitments to meet the data demands of the COVID-19 crisis and for delivering on the sustainable development Goals (SDGs) while also addressing trust in data, privacy and governance.

The programme of the Forum included three high-level plenaries on leaving no one behind, on data use and on trust in data. Together and under one virtual roof, the forum launched the Global Data Community’s response to COVID 19 – Data for a changing world.

This is a call for increased support for data use during COVID-19, focusing on the immediate needs related to the pandemic and for increased political and financial support for data throughout the COVID 19 pandemic and beyond.

Showcased in 70 live-streamed, 30 pre-recorded sessions and 20 virtual exhibit spaces, many innovative solutions to the data challenges of the 2030 Agenda were proposed and partnerships were formed, including:

    • Lessons learned in using data to track and mitigate the impact of COVID-19, at the global, national and local level;
    • Better ways to communicate data and statistics;
    • Use of maps and spatial data to improve the lives of communities;
    • Lessons learned from the use of AI algorithms;
    • Challenges in balancing data use and data protection;
    • How to secure more funding for data.

The next World Data Forum is scheduled to take place from 3 to 6 October 2021 in Bern, Switzerland, hosted by the Federal Statistical Office and the United Nations.

What next?

The Covid-19 pandemic has sadly confirmed that without timely, trusted, disaggregated data there cannot be an adequate response to the many challenges of dealing with the crisis and ensuring a sustainable, inclusive and better future for all.

Clearly, the time is now to recognize that we need data for a changing world. The time is now to accelerate action on the implementation of the Cape Town Global Action Plan and the Dubai declaration to respond more effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic and to put us back on track towards the achievement of the SDGs and to build stronger and more agile and resilient statistical and data systems to respond to future disasters.

World leaders need to recognize that increased investments are more urgently needed than ever to address the data gap and to close the digital divide and data inequality across the world.

To ensure the political commitment and donor support necessary to prioritize data and statistics, it is critical that the data community is able to demonstrate the impact and value of data.

The UN World Data Forum will continue to strive towards these objectives. It will also remain the space for knowledge sharing and launching new initiatives and collaborations for the integration of new data sources into official statistical systems and for promoting users’ engagement and a better use of data for policy and decision-making.

1 WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard
2 ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Sixth edition
3 United Nations, The Sustainable Development Goals, Report 2020
4 United Nations Statistics Division, COVID-19 widens gulf of global data inequality, while national statistical offices step up to meet new data demands, 5 June 2020. https://covid-19-response.unstatshub.org/statistical-programmes/covid19-nso-survey/
5 PARIS21 Partner Report on Support to Statistics 2020
6 The World Bank

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The Plight of Domestic Workers in Brazil

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Opinion

Waldeli Melleiro is a project manager at the Brazil Office of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and Christoph Heuser is the resident representative at the FES Brazil Office.

On 31 January 2018, the Government of Brazil deposited the formal instrument of ratification with the International Labour Office for ratification of the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, 2011 (No. 189) . Accordingly, Brazil became the twenty-fifth member State of the ILO and the fourteenth member State in the Americas region to ratify this Convention. It is estimated that there are about seven million domestic workers in Brazil, six million of them women, and more than in any other country in the world. Moreover, the majority of domestic workers are women, with indigenous peoples and persons of African descent being over-represented in the domestic work sector. But how has the Convention been implemented?. Credit: International Labour Organization (ILO), Geneva

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Oct 21 2020 (IPS) – The inclusivity of Brazilian society is put to the test as the coronavirus pandemic highlights a labour sector ripe with historical and structural inequality: domestic work.


The first death of COVID-19 in Rio de Janeiro was emblematic of the country’s inequities: a domestic worker who caught the new coronavirus from her employer. Much has since been written about the Brazilian government and its catastrophic inaction during the pandemic.

But the new normal also highlights a sector that has always been present in Brazil but with little public attention. A sector, in which the historical and structural inequality in Brazil is very much represented: domestic work.

With about 6 million female workers, domestic work is the second-largest occupation for women in Brazil. They are mostly black (about 65 per cent) and many are over 45 years old (46.5 per cent).

They start working sometimes as teenagers or even children, and because they lack access to most labour rights and social protection, even after 50 years or more of continuous work they still do not have the right to retirement and well-deserved rest.

They live far from their workplaces, often earn less than the legal minimum wage of around 200 USD per month, and are nonetheless often responsible (45 per cent of them) for the income of their families.

Among the poorest of these workers (less than 1,5 USD/day), 58.1 percent are heads of household, which gives an indication of the extreme poverty in which their families live.

The lack of labour protection

Domestic workers have long been fighting for recognition of the value of their work and for labour rights. The struggle in Brazil goes back to the 1930s, with the founding of the Professional Association of Domestic Employees of Santos.

In 1988 the new Constitution guaranteed paid leave and a 13th month of salary, among others. But domestic workers continued to have fewer rights than those in other professions.

Several further rights were only obtained in 2013 under the former administration of Dilma Rousseff, including the limiting of working hours to eight per day and 44 per week, the right to recognition of overtime, and paid retirement.

Despite these advances, many female workers are still excluded from many of those rights, which are guaranteed only to those who work at least three days a week in the same job. And even where the conditions are met, many employers persistently fail to respect workers’ rights, while monitoring compliance is difficult.

Those who work for the same employer for one or two days a week, known as day workers, remain completely unassisted by the law and social protection.

Furthermore, the degree of informality in domestic work is very high: In 2018, only 27 percent of women workers had a formal contract, if we are adding those paying individually even without having a formal contract, only 39 percent contributed to social security.

Thus, the vast majority of female domestic workers are not entitled to unemployment insurance, sickness benefit and retirement.

The new normal of work during and after the pandemic

Domestic work is one of the occupations most affected by the pandemic.

Many workers are in high-risk age groups; their working conditions expose them to more possibilities of contamination; they use public transportation over long distances; they care for elderly people or children with unavoidable physical proximity; and they often have to work without proper protective masks, gloves, or alcohol gel.

Or even worse: in order to keep their jobs and limit contamination, some stay for days and weeks on end in the homes where they work, away from their families.

As the pandemic took hold, the government allowed employers of domestic workers to suspend the contract for up to two months, with two months of secure employment after the suspension. It also allowed partial employment.

But this only helped the minority of domestic workers with such a contract. Most have precarious positions and many of those, especially day workers, have been dismissed and left without income and vulnerable.

The government also started paying 600 reals (around 109 USD) per month for those in need, for example informal workers, rising to 1,200 reals (218 USD) per month for some cases, for example single mothers. However, many women had difficulty in registering and accessing this aid.

Despite the pandemic, domestic workers are standing firm in the fight for labour rights. In March 2020 Fenatrad (National Federation of Domestic Workers) launched a campaign under the slogan “Take care of those who take care of you, leave your domestic worker at home, with paid wages.”

According to Luiza Batista, president of Fenatrad, there was good coverage in social networks, but in practice there was little adhesion by employers. Fenatrad has been carrying out an intense programme of denunciation and negotiation.

The group has also campaigned against a controversial measure by some state governments, for example Pará, to declare domestic work as an essential service during lockdown, forcing workers to continue working.

This measure was reversed after pressure from Fenatrad to specify what functions within domestic work are essential. The category was refined to include only nannies, careers for the elderly, and those caring for people with special needs and whose employers are keyworkers, e.g. in the health or security sectors.

Still the question remains: if domestic work is essential why it is not valued? It is fundamental work, but it is marginalized and carries the prejudices of a society in which social rights are not within reach for everyone.

The pandemic stresses the importance of domestic work and at the same time showed its precariousness as well as the inequality within the Brazilian society. It is time to reflect on the need for change in paid domestic work, aiming at a fair and inclusive society.

The new normal should recognize and value domestic work, including adequate labour rights as an important step on the long way to a more just society.

Source: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), Brazil

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Amid COVID-19, What is the Health of Civic Freedoms?

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequity, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Population, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Marianna Belalba Barreto is the Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation & Aarti Narsee is a Civic Space Research Officer at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Black Lives Matter Protests, Washington DC, June 2020. Credit: Ted Eytan

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Oct 16 2020 (IPS) – More than half a year after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, governments are continuing to waste precious time and energy restricting human rights rather than focusing on fighting the virus.


Civic freedoms, including the freedom to associate, express views and peacefully assemble, are under threat, with states using broad and restrictive legislation to snuff out dissent.

But people are organising and mobilising to demand rights. In the face of restrictions, civil society continues to fight back, often taking to the streets to do so.

Even before the pandemic freedom of expression was under threat. In 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor reported that censorship was the most common violation during that year, occurring across 178 countries.

Now, under the guise of stopping the spread of what they characterise as ‘fake news’, many governments continue to target the media.

Free-flowing information and unrestricted speech are vital during a pandemic. People need to receive accurate and up-to-date information on the emergency, not least so they can protect themselves and their families.

As frontline workers, journalists have a crucial role to play in disseminating important information, often putting their own lives at risk. But during the pandemic they have faced harassment, arbitrary detention and censorship from governments determined to silence critical reporting about their response to COVID-19.

Often such attempts have been carried out under the guise of tackling so-called ‘fake news’ on the virus.

Even before the pandemic, Turkey was the number one jailer of journalists in the world, with about 165 journalists currently behind bars. The government’s crackdown on the media has continued, with journalists being jailed on charges of ‘causing people to panic and publishing reports on coronavirus outside the knowledge of authorities’.

Thousands of social media accounts have also been placed under surveillance for comments about COVID-19, with citizens being detained for ‘unfounded and provocative’ posts that cause worry among the public, incite them to fear, panic and target persons and institutions’.

People expect to be able to question their government’s handling of the crisis and hold it to account over the decisions made. But governments are resisting this. In Zimbabwe, investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was detained and charged for his critical reporting on the government’s COVID-19 procurement.

The need for this was clear when Zimbabwe’s health minister was dismissed and arrested for alleged corruption in medical procurement. But while Chin’ono has been released on bail, the persecution against him continues, despite calls from local and international media watchdog bodies for all charges to be dropped.

Despite these restrictions, people have continued to mobilise and fight for their rights. The pandemic pushed activists to come up with new and innovative forms of protests. Health workers across the world staged socially distanced protests to highlight the challenges within the medical system which have been further exposed by the pandemic; around the world, people found innovative ways to get their voices across.

In Palestine, feminist organisations organised balcony protests against the surge of gender-based violence during the pandemic. Videos show people standing on their balconies, banging pots and pans and hanging banners to show solidarity.

In Singapore in April, young climate activists from the Fridays for Future global school strike movement held solo protests in order to sidestep the country’s restrictive laws on peaceful assembly.

In June in Brazil, human rights groups organised peaceful interventions to denounce the scale of the COVID-19 crisis; protesters in the capital Brasilia put up 1,000 crosses to pay tribute to COVID-19 victims on the lawn in front of key government buildings, calling out President Jair Bolsonaro for his denials of the pandemic’s gravity.

Protests against racial injustice have been staged in all corners of the globe, following the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police on 25 May 2020. Floyd’s death sparked massive protests against police brutality in the USA, under the banner of Black Lives Matter.

As the movement expanded, people from different continents, in countries as diverse as Senegal, Sri Lanka and Sweden, chanted “No Justice, No Peace”, and held placards reading “racism is a virus” to show they had no choice but to protest amid a global pandemic.

But in some countries these protests were dispersed by police using excessive force, with the reasoning that protests would lead to a further spread of COVID-19.

CIVICUS continues to document civic space restrictions, and while many governments are taking advantage of the crisis to suppress criticism, civil society continues to resist, to fight back, and to make their voices heard.

As part of this, journalists are playing a vital role in fighting censorship and sharing information about the pandemic.

What is very clear is that civil society has and will continue to play a vital role in addressing the urgent needs of the people during this crisis. Without a healthy civic space and an enabling environment for activists, civil society and journalists, we will not be able to effectively tackle the spread of the virus and the prospect for rebuilding a more equal and just society will be limited.

This is why people will continue to organise, mobilise and protest.

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UN Women Calls for Accelerating its Unfinished Business

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Opinion

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women

Women in Bangladesh stand up for gender equality. Credit: UNICEF/Jannatul Mawa

NEW YORK, Sep 7 2020 (IPS) – Twenty-five years ago, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing set a path-breaking agenda for women’s rights. As a result of the two-week gathering with more than 30,000 activists, representatives from 189 nations unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.


This historic blueprint articulated a vision of equal rights, freedom and opportunities for women – everywhere, no matter what their circumstances are – that continues to shape gender equality and women’s movements worldwide.

A quarter century on, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, calls for urgent action: “With nations around the world searching for solutions to the complex challenges of our age, the leading way for all of us to rebuild more equal, inclusive, and resilient societies, is to accelerate the implementation of women’s rights – the Beijing Platform for Action. That vision has been only partly realized. We still live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture, and this simply has to change”.

The Beijing Platform for Action imagined a world where every woman and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices, and realize her rights, such as to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions and to earn equal pay for work of equal value. As a defining framework for change, the Platform for Action made comprehensive commitments under 12 critical areas of concern.

Twenty-five years later, no country has fully delivered on the commitments of the Beijing Platform for Action, nor is close to it. A major stock-taking UN Women report published earlier this year showed that progress towards gender equality is faltering and hard-won advances are being reversed.

Women currently hold just one quarter of the seats at the tables of power across the board. Men are still 75 per cent of parliamentarians, hold 73 per cent of managerial positions, are 70 per cent of climate negotiators and almost all of the peacemakers.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

The anniversary is a wake-up call and comes at a time when the impact of the gender equality gaps is undeniable. Research shows the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities and threatening to halt or reverse the gains of decades of collective effort – with just released new data revealing that the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line.

We are also witnessing increased reports on violence against women throughout the world due to the lockdowns, and women losing their livelihoods faster because they are more exposed to hard-hit economic sectors.

While much works remains on fulfilling the promises of the Beijing Platform for Action, it continues to be a global framework and a powerful source of mobilization, civil society activism, guidance and inspiration 25 years later.

It was at the Fourth World Conference on Women, specifically at the Women & Health Security Colloquium, where Hillary Clinton coined the phrase, “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights”.

In a recent article in The Atlantic, she recalled her participation at the Conference as the Honorary Chairperson of the US delegation, and the significance of the Beijing Declaration: “A 270-page document might not lend itself to bumper stickers or coffee mugs, but it laid the groundwork for sweeping, necessary changes.”

Underlining the urgency for implementation, she added: “As the changes laid out in the Platform for Action have been implemented, what’s become clear is that simply embracing the concept of women’s rights, let alone enshrining those rights in laws and constitutions, is not the same as achieving full equality. Rights are important, but they are nothing without the power to claim them.”

Years after, global activists continue the hard work and those who participated at the 1995 Beijing Conference remain touched by this historic meeting. Zeliha Ünaldi, a long-standing gender advocate from Turkey, said it was a life-changing experience: “When I recall those days, mingling around the tents with thousands of women committing to a better world, two words immediately come to my mind: sisterhood and peace. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the subsequent five years helped me understand the power in us and of us as the global women’s movement.”

The upcoming UN General Assembly later this month will be a key opportunity to bring to the forefront the relevance of the Beijing Declaration and move the needle on implementation, with a High-Level Meeting attended by global leaders on “Accelerating the Realization of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of all Women and Girls” on 1 October.

The event will showcase how building equal and inclusive societies is more urgent than ever, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages lives and livelihoods.

Calling on world leaders to use their political power to accelerate robust action and resources for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls: “This is a re-set moment. On this important anniversary, let us reaffirm the promises the world made to women in 1995. Let us draw on the activist spirit of the Beijing Conference and commit to forging new alliances across generations and sectors to ensure we seize this opportunity for deep, systemic change for women and for the world.”

The anniversary will be further commemorated in the context of the Generation Equality Forum, a civil society–centred, global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of France and Mexico, foreseen to take place in the first half of 2021.

Exactly 25 years after the opening of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, its significance is undimmed. In that quarter century we have seen the strength and impact of collective activism grow and have been reminded of the importance of multilateralism and partnership to find common solutions to shared problems.

Back in 1995, the deliberations of the Conference resulted in the framing of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: a bold agenda for the change needed to realize the human rights of women and girls, articulated across 12 critical areas of concern.

The Platform for Action provided a blueprint for the advancement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, adopted by 189 UN Member States and universally referenced.

The continued relevance of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action cannot be overstated today. The far-reaching social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the significant increases in violence against women, threaten to reverse many of the hard-won advances made in the last 25 years to empower women and girls.

At the same time, the outstanding value of women’s leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic is in plain sight, along with the recognition of just how much women’s work and women’s movements have sustained the world, from domestic life, the fight for human rights, to national economies.

We also know that by next year, 435 million women and girls are likely to have been reduced to extreme poverty. Governments, local administrations, businesses and enterprises of all sorts must not let this happen.

To tackle persistent systemic barriers to equality, we need transformative approaches and new alliances that engage the private sector alongside governments and civil society. This is a re-set moment. The economic and policy lifeboats for our struggling world must put women and children first.

The political will of leaders can make the difference. World leaders convening at this year’s United Nations General Assembly have the opportunity to use their power in action to accelerate the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and to support the role of civil society organizations and youth.

Our humanitarian responses to COVID-19, our economic stimulus packages, our reinventions of working life and our efforts to create solidarity across social and physical distance – these are all chances to build back better for women and girls.

For success, we need to work together on these transformative actions. In 2019, we launched a global campaign called Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights for an Equal Future, with a call for renewed commitment by governments in partnership with civil society, academia and the private sector.

It included clear timelines, responsibilities and resources towards realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious long-term framework that included goals to achieve universal gender equality.

On October 1, 2020, when a High-Level Meeting on the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action is convened by the President of the General Assembly, Member States can put into action their commitment toward a more gender-equal world.

On this important anniversary, let us reaffirm the promises the world made to women and girls in 1995. Let us draw on the activist spirit of the Beijing Conference and commit to forging new alliances across generations and sectors to ensure we seize this opportunity for deep, systemic change for women and for the world.

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The Great Lockdown Through a Global Lens

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Opinion

The empty corridors of a locked down UN Secretariat in New York. Credit: United Nations

WASHINGTON DC, Jun 17 2020 (IPS) – The Great Lockdown is expected to play out in three phases, first as countries enter the lockdown, then as they exit, and finally as they escape the lockdown when there is a medical solution to the pandemic.


Many countries are now in the second phase, as they reopen, with early signs of recovery, but risks of second waves of infections and re-imposition of lockdowns. Surveying the economic landscape, the sheer scale and severity of the Global Lockdown are striking.

Most tragically, this pandemic has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. The resulting economic crisis is unlike anything the world has seen before.

This is a truly global crisis. Past crises, as deep and severe as they were, remained confined to smaller segments of the world, from Latin America during the 1980s to Asia in the 1990s. Even the global financial crisis 10 years ago had more modest effects on global output.

For the first time since the Great Depression, both advanced and emerging market economies will be in recession in 2020. The forthcoming June World Economic Outlook Update is likely to show negative growth rates even worse than previously estimated. This crisis will have devastating consequences for the world’s poor.

Aside from its unprecedented scale, the Global Lockdown is playing out in ways that are very different from past crises. These unusual characteristics are emerging all over the world, irrespective of the size, geographic region, or production structure of economies.

First, this crisis has dealt a uniquely large blow to the services sector. In typical crises, the brunt is borne by manufacturing, reflecting a decline in investment, while the effect on services is generally muted as consumption demand is less affected.

This time is different. In the peak months of the lockdown the contraction in services has been even larger than in manufacturing, and it is seen in advanced and emerging market economies alike.

There are exceptions—like Sweden and Taiwan Province of China, which adopted a different approach to the health crisis, with limited government containment measures and a consequently proportionately smaller hit to services vis-à-vis manufacturing.

It is possible that with pent-up consumer demand there will be a quicker rebound, unlike after previous crises. However, this is not guaranteed in a health crisis as consumers may change spending behavior to minimize social interaction, and uncertainty can lead households to save more. In the case of China, one of the early exiters from lockdown, the recovery of the services sector lags manufacturing as such services as hospitality and travel struggle to regain demand.

Of particular concern is the long-term impact on economies that rely significantly on such services—for example, tourism-dependent economies.

Second, despite the large supply shocks unique to this crisis, except for food inflation, we have thus far seen, if anything, a decline in inflation and inflation expectations pretty much across the board in both advanced and emerging market economies.

Scene in New York City Subway during COVID-19 Outbreak. Credit: United Nations

Despite the considerable conventional and unconventional monetary and fiscal support across the globe, aggregate demand remains subdued and is weighing on inflation, alongside lower commodity prices. With high unemployment projected to stay for a while, countries with monetary policy credibility will likely see small risks of spiraling inflation.

Third, we see striking divergence of financial markets from the real economy, with financial indicators pointing to stronger prospects of a recovery than real activity suggests. Despite the recent correction, the S&P 500 has recouped most of its losses since the start of the crisis; the FTSE emerging market index and Africa index are substantially improved; the Bovespa rose significantly despite the recent surge in infection rates in Brazil; portfolio flows to emerging and developing economies have stabilized.

With few exceptions, the rise in sovereign spreads and the depreciation of emerging market currencies are smaller than what we saw during the global financial crisis. This is notable considering the larger scale of the shock to emerging markets during the Great Lockdown.

This divergence may portend greater volatility in financial markets. Worse health and economic news can lead to sharp corrections. We will have more to say about this divergence in our forthcoming Global Financial Stability Report.

One likely factor behind this divergence is the stronger policy response during this crisis. Monetary policy has become accommodative across the board, with unprecedented support from major central banks, and monetary easing in emerging markets including through first time use of unconventional policies.

Discretionary fiscal policy has been sizable in advanced economies. Emerging markets have deployed smaller fiscal support, constrained to some extent by limited fiscal space. Furthermore, a unique challenge confronting emerging markets this time around is that the informal sector, typically a shock absorber, has not been able to play that role under containment policies and has instead required support.

We are now in the early stages of the second phase as many countries begin to ease containment policies and gradually permit the resumption of economic activity. But there remains profound uncertainty about the path of the recovery.

A key challenge in escaping the Great Lockdown will be to ensure adequate production and distribution of vaccines and treatments when they become available—and this will require a global effort. For individual countries, minimizing the health uncertainty by using the least economically disruptive approaches such as testing, tracing, and isolation, tailored to country-specific circumstances with clear communication about the path of policies, should remain a priority to strengthen confidence in the recovery.

As the recovery progresses, policies should support the reallocation of workers from shrinking sectors to sectors with stronger prospects.

The IMF, in coordination with other international organizations, will continue to do all it can to ensure adequate international liquidity, provide emergency financing, support the G20 debt service suspension initiative, and help countries maintain a manageable debt burden.

The IMF will also provide advice and support through surveillance and capacity development, to help disseminate best practices, as countries learn from each other during this unprecedented crisis.

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Predicting COVID-19 Infection Fatality Rates Around the World

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Opinion

WASHINGTON DC, Jun 16 2020 (IPS) – The world saw more new confirmed COVID-19 cases last week than any week to date. And as the pandemic grows, its epicenter is moving from advanced economies to more developing countries, including Brazil, India, and South Africa.


How is the pandemic likely to evolve as it spreads to poorer countries?

In a new working paper, we attempt to answer one piece of that question, predicting the infection fatality rate, or IFR, for COVID-19 for 187 countries based on demography, comorbidities, and the strength of health systems.

The IFR numbers we report are somewhat higher—sometimes dramatically so—than the figures given for many developing countries in earlier influential studies, including the Imperial College team’s scenarios for the global pandemic and a recent report by the WHO Africa bureau.

That difference can be chalked up to how we incorporate two factors: pre-existing health conditions, and the relative strength of health systems.

For many developing countries, comorbidities partially offset the advantages of youth

A recent study in Science by Salje et al., for instance, finds that with French-level healthcare, the probability of dying with COVID-19 rises roughly eight-fold when moving from the 60-69 age group to the 70 and above range. This is good news for developing countries, which generally have a much younger population than France.

Most previous forecasts of the COVID-19 infection fatality rate have incorporated this demographic advantage. However, they have generally not included the offsetting effect of cross-country differences in comorbidities.

Those comorbidities—such as diabetes, hypertension, and ischemic cardiovascular diseases— matter a lot. Data from Italy show that roughly 96 percent of COVID-19 fatalities report one or more relevant comorbidities.

Inverting that probability using Bayes’ rule and data on France’s IFR and comorbidity distribution, we find that the probability of dying from a COVID-19 infection for patients under 40 is roughly 134-times higher with a relevant comorbidity than without.

Developing countries generally have lower rates of relevant comorbidities compared to high-income countries (where the best measures of infection fatality rates come from). But whereas comorbidities are concentrated among the elderly in rich countries, some developing countries—such as South Africa—report a considerably higher share of these conditions among middle-aged people.

Future work would benefit from more careful treatment of comorbidities like HIV/AIDS that have higher prevalence in lower-income countries. But even a simple adjustment for comorbidities partially undermines many developing countries’ demographic advantages.

Evidence from other viral respiratory infections suggests a much bleaker scenario for COVID-19 in the developing world

So far, our estimates assume that an individual infected with COVID-19 in, say, Uganda has the same probability of dying as someone with the same sex, age, and number of comorbidities in France. Clearly that’s optimistic, given the overall capacity of Uganda’s health system relative to France’s. But exactly how optimistic?

To gauge how much fatality rates might vary with health system capacity, we draw on estimates of the infection fatality rate for another viral respiratory infection, namely influenza. We focus on children under five years old, to purge variation in age and comorbidities that typically begin later in life, and scale the odds ratio of dying from COVID-19 by the ratio of child influenza death rates across countries by income group.

Adjusting for health-system capacity in this way yields COVID-19 infection fatality rates that are considerably higher than previous estimates for the developing world. For the five countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with the largest confirmed COVID-19 epidemics to date, our results are roughly twice as high as those from Imperial College, which does not factor in comorbidities or health system strength beyond a simple capacity constraint on hospital beds.

And they are roughly eight times higher than forecasts from the WHO Africa, which do not adjust for health system capacity and only scale the IFR downward (never upward) due to comorbidities.

Comparing predicted COVID-19 infection fatality rates across studies

Our results are more in line with the Imperial College predictions for Europe, as shown in the bottom panel above. For the five European countries shown, we can also compare to a more “gold standard” benchmark, i.e., infection fatality rates calculated on the basis of seroprevalence studies of a random sample of the population (blue bars).

Both our results and the Imperial college results match these seroprevalence studies fairly well on average, but fail to explain much of the intra-European variance (some of which may be due to variance in how deaths are counted, e.g., Belgium’s fairly liberal definition of a COVID-19 death to include all unexplained nursing home deaths).

In short, our IFR estimates seem fairly plausible for Europe, where we have an independent reference point, and our results suggest that earlier predictions for developing countries that ignore health system capacity may be far too optimistic.

In line with recent news reports, it’s likely young people will make up a larger share of COVID-19 deaths in the developing world

In the United States to date, patients over 75 years old represent over 60 percent of COVID-19 deaths. In Italy, the number of fatalities above 70 is 85 percent.

Both demography and weak health systems explain why COVID-19 deaths are more concentrated among younger people in the developing world

Although predicted IFRs display a steep age gradient in all contexts, due to demographic differences the bulk of deaths in low- and lower-middle income countries is predicted to come from middle-aged patients (40-70).

Less obviously, differences in health system capacity are also likely to flatten the age gradient of COVID-19 deaths in developing countries. In Europe, data is consistent with the hypothesis that intensive care saves the lives of a higher proportion of young than elderly COVID-19 patients. Thus, when high-quality intensive care is lacking, the advantages of youth are more muted.

These estimates are far from the final word on this question. But we hope that our calculations provide an important cautionary note about developing countries’ demographic advantages in facing down COVID-19.

Planning for the ongoing pandemic response and calibration of containment policies should factor in the wide variation in predicted IFRs across contexts. Specifically, policymakers in low-income countries should be cognizant that any demographic advantages with respect to COVID-19 fatality rates are likely to be partially offset by disadvantages in terms of the age-distribution of comorbidities, and even more so by gaps in health system capacity.

*Justin Sandefur is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD) ; Selene Ghisolfi is an economics post-doc at the Laboratory for Effective Anti-poverty Policies Bocconi, and a PhD student at the Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University; Ingvild Almås is a professor of economics at the Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University; Tillmann von Carnap is a PhD student at the Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University; Jesse Heitner is a health economist at Aceso Global; and Tessa Bold is an associate professor at the Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University.

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