Governments must dramatically overhaul policies and invest in public health, economic stimulus, and social safety nets, to help countries recover faster from the COVID-19 pandemic, says a new report from the UN Development Programme.
The economic report warns that a patchwork of preexisting solutions won’t work and points out that governments must coordinate with each other to hasten the recovery.
This is a global crisis and working in silos is not an option, says the report released from Bangkok on Tuesday.
The report: “Position Note on the Social and Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Asia-Pacific,” calls on countries in the region to avoid returning to the pre-pandemic environmentally unsustainable development path, and to capitalize on the opportunity to build a better future.
It argues for a new human rights-based, just and fair social contract between governments and people, and advocates for social safety nets with a broader reach, universal health insurance, and affordable access to digital connectivity, as the new normal.
“While we must focus on the immediate needs of a health crisis, the accompanying economic and social crises also need urgent attention. These feed on pre-pandemic vulnerabilities that will be a fire hard to contain, if not addressed together,” said Kanni Wignaraja, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.
“Bold proposals in this report address the multiple shocks together, by proposing a different set of choices today to build a different tomorrow.”
While both crises are exacting a huge human toll, with a heavy burden and crisis of care falling disproportionately on the shoulders of women, the report calls on governments and businesses to invest in building more sustainable and resilient supply chains and to foster circular and sharing economies, which will allow us to tread lighter on the environment and ecosystems, according to the report.
The report contributes to the UN’s work that supports the socio-economic recovery from the pandemic in Asia and the Pacific.
It calls for policies and actions that immediately strengthen health systems, to save lives and prevent the spread of the virus.
And advocates for the rapid expansion of social protection measures, to sustain incomes, especially for the most affected and vulnerable. Regular public communication of measures taken is a must to strengthen trust of people in government, the report adds.
Governments will need huge resources to bolster public health, for the economic stimulus, and for social safety nets, which will place an enormous strain on budgets.
To meet that challenge, the report asks governments to revise priorities reflected in budget revenue, spending and financing. Budget revisions may be painful but are necessary, to meet this emergency and to contain fiscal deficits and surges in public debt, at manageable levels.
Given the deeply interconnected nature of the world, the report stresses that the twin global emergencies, the pandemic and the economic crisis, require a global response.
Global coordination and solidarity are needed to chart a shared sustainable and resilient development path, as no country will be able to pull this off on its own.
A key step is to collaboratively resolve the long-standing issue of so called ‘fiscal termites’ that undermine national budgets: tax competition, tax evasion via transfer pricing and tax havens, large fossil fuel subsidies, and finding ways to tax the digital economy.
Further steps include restarting trade in goods, even as borders are closed for people – starting from essential goods such as medical supplies and food; and effectively coordinating the movement of stranded migrants and refugees.
Bangladesh has pointed out international community's continuous call only on Bangladesh to shelter Rohingyas floating at Bay on boat saying the other countries of the Bay of Bengal region are not requested to share the burden in a similar way.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen urged all the countries to take effective steps quickly to resolve the Rohingya crisis.
He conveyed the message when British Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations Lord Ahmad made a phone call to him on Monday requesting Bangladesh to give shelter to floating Rohingyas at Bay.
"Despite limited resources, Bangladesh has already given shelter to around 1.1 million Rohingyas on humanitarian ground. The small number of floating 500 Rohingyas are not in Bangladesh territory," he said.
Talking to UNB, a diplomat said it is the responsibility of surrounding countries of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to share the responsibility and helping the distressed people in the deep sea.
There are eight countries -- Myanmar, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Bangladesh – in the Bay of Bengal region.
Foreign Minister Dr Momen said though Bangladesh was requested to give shelter to floating Rohingyas showing humanity, other countries in the region were not requested to do the same thing.
He conveyed the UK Minister to take the floating Rohingyas sending their Royal ship.
The Foreign Minister also said other countries of the world should take 1.1 million Rohingyas and give them shelter in their respective countries.
Earlier, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, sought greater coordination and responsibility-sharing by states to address the maritime movements of refugees and asylum-seekers in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea saving lives.
"We’re increasingly concerned by reports of failure to disembark vessels in distress and of the grave immediate risk this poses to the men, women and children on board," said Indrika Ratwatte, Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.
The UNHCR official said saving lives at sea must be a collective effort in which any one state that rescues and disembarks refugees can draw on resources pooled from other states in the region.
"Predictable disembarkation and safe pathways for refugees in distress strengthen public health by ensuring that whatever the manner of arrival, people go through appropriate health screening," said Ratwatte.
The UNHCR official said it safeguards prevention measures rather than risking that people will instead seek clandestine points of entry without going through proper quarantine procedures.
Rescue at sea and allowing the persecuted to seek asylum are fundamental tenets of customary international law, by which all states are bound, said the UN agency.
Beyond the current COVID-19 crisis, Ratwatte said, a predictable and humane disembarkation approach will remain critical. "UNHCR is calling on all states to uphold these lifesaving obligations to refugees and asylum-seekers."
The UNHCR said search and rescue, along with prompt disembarkation, are lifesaving acts.
"The dire – and, in many cases, fatal – predicament of thousands of refugees and migrants in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea in 2015 ultimately demonstrated the critical, humanitarian imperative for solidarity and joint action to address threats to life at sea," said Ratwatte.
The 2016 Bali Declaration embodied these principles and outlined the way forward to prevent another crisis in the Andaman Sea.
"We must not return to such life-threatening uncertainty today," said Ratwatte.
In the context of the unprecedented current COVID-19 crisis, the UNHCR official said, all states must manage their borders as they see fit.
"But such measures shouldn ‘t result in the closure of avenues to asylum, or of forcing people to return to situations of danger. UNHCR stands ready to support Governments in carrying out responsible disembarkation procedures and quarantine measures to ensure that public health issues are addressed."
Ratwatte said the challenge of irregular movement is not unique to Asia.
Refugees and asylum-seekers move through unofficial and often inherently risky channels because it is the only option available to them. The reality for many refugees is that persecution and threats to their lives and well-being are more immediate than COVID-19.
"UNHCR notes and is encouraged by the Association of South East Asian States’ clear commitment to joint action and a whole-of-society approach in the context of COVID-19," said the UNHCR official.
Leaving no-one behind is the only lasting means of ensuring that we collectively beat this global challenge, and they are all only as strong as their most vulnerable members, said Ratwatte.
HR Bodies Not Vocal
Dr Momen said other countries, especially developed ones, should come forward in giving shelter to Rohingya people.
He said the responsibility of providing shelter to Rohingyas lies on the countries in the region, too.
The Foreign Minister said military operation is still going on in Myanmar and Rohingya people are losing lives.
A few days ago, Rohingyas tried to enter Bangladesh territory and rest of the Rohingya people may try again to get into Bangladesh, Dr Momen said.
Despite this, he said, countries under the European Union are investing in Myanmar. "Human rights organisations are not vocal on these issues."
UK Support for RMG Sector
Dr Momen urged the British Minister to come forward to help the Bangladesh nationals abroad saying many Bangladesh citizens in various countries including in the Middle East are suffering due to food crisis amid jobs cut there.
He said the development nations including the UK should remain vocal so that Bangladeshi citizens abroad get back their jobs.
Dr Momen sought UK’s support so that export orders in the readymade garment sector are not cancelled and urged the UK to create special fund to keep exports order uninterrupted.
He informed the UK Minister that Bangladesh will send medical support to the UK as gift to deal with the challenges of coronavirus.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) has urged governments to take action to prevent and control COVID-19 in workplace, with active involvement and dialogue with employers’ and workers’ organisations as the pressure mounts on countries to ease their lockdown restrictions
All employers need to carry out risk assessments and ensure their workplaces meet strict occupational safety and health criteria beforehand to minimise the risk to workers of exposure to COVID-19, says the ILO on Tuesday.
Without such controls, it said, countries face the very real risk of a resurgence of the virus.
Putting in place the necessary measures will minimise the risk of a second wave of contagion contracted at the workplace.
“The safety and health of our entire workforce is paramount today. In the face of an infectious disease outbreak, how we protect our workers now clearly dictates how safe our communities are, and how resilient our businesses will be, as this pandemic evolves,” said the Director-General of the ILO, Guy Ryder.
“It’s only by implementing occupational safety and health measures that we can protect the lives of workers, their families and the larger communities, ensure work continuity and economic survival,” Ryder added.
In particular, risk control measures should be specifically adapted to the needs of workers at the frontline of the pandemic, according to a statement received from Geneva.
These include health workers, nurses, doctors and emergency workers, as well as those in food retail and cleaning services.
The ILO also highlighted the needs of the most vulnerable workers and businesses, in particular those in the informal economy, migrant and domestic workers.
Measures to protect these workers should include among others education and training on safe and healthy work practices, free provision of PPE as needed, access to public health services and livelihood alternatives.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for strong national programmes to protect the health and safety of health workers, medical professionals, emergency responders, and the many other workers risking their lives on our behalf,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “On World Day for Safety and Health at Work, I call on all countries to assure well-defined, decent and safe working conditions for all health workers."
To ensure a safe return to work and to avoid further work disruptions, the ILO recommends mapping hazards and assessing risks of contagion in relation to all work operations, and continuing to assess them following a return to work, adopting risk control measures adapted to each sector and the specifics of each workplace and workforce.
These may include reducing physical interactions between workers, contractors, customers and visitors and respecting physical distancing when any interactions occur, improving ventilation in the work place, regularly cleaning surfaces, ensuring workplaces are clean and hygienic, and providing adequate facilities for handwashing and sanitization, providing arrangements for isolating suspected cases and tracing every contact, providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to workers where necessary and at no cost, providing mental health support for staff and providing training, education and informational material about health and safety at work, including proper hygiene practices and the use of any workplace controls, including PPE.
British lawmaker Rushanara Ali has written to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Trade urging them to lead efforts to protect global trade and supply chains.
The letter highlighted the damage caused by multinational Western firms backing out of business contracts and impacts on Bangladesh.
It included the example of the Readymade Garments (RMG) industry in Bangladesh, where $3.7 billion of orders have been cancelled already.
A total of £2.4 billion of these contracts are from UK-based retailers, including ASDA, New Look, Edinburgh Woollen Mills, Peacocks, Sports Direct and Urban Outfitters.
“In addition, Bangladesh is the world's largest producer of garments and textiles after China. If this supply chain collapses, then the world's capacity to produce PPE will be damaged," said Rushanara Ali, MP.
“The UK must lead efforts to ensure that global trade and supply chains are protected," she said.
Rushanara Ali called on the UK government to take all the necessary steps to support those British companies that are struggling to stay afloat, so they are able to fulfill their obligations to suppliers. "In doing so, this will protect those who work to supply our UK high-street goods."
She said it is morally reprehensible for big multinational firms, who can afford to pay, to back out of their contracts.
"In doing so, they’re putting millions of workers and their families at risk of starvation. Their actions are potentially destabilising countries and damaging the prospect of recovery from a global recession," said Rushanara Ali.
The coronavirus pandemic has sent global markets into turmoil and the detrimental impact on the global economy continues to evolve at an unprecedented speed.
Global supply chains have been disrupted, local economies have been wrecked by businesses collapsing, and millions have lost their jobs, according to a message received from Rushanara Ali’s office on Monday.
Those countries with developing economies will be hit the hardest.
On March 31, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association reported that 25 percent of garment workers (around 1 million) had lost their jobs or had been furloughed without pay, the message reads.
The Bangladesh government has had to step in and provide the factories with loans to finance, as some multinational firms have failed to honour their contracts, and have not paid what they owe.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has written a letter to Jack Ma, co-founder and former executive chairman of Alibaba Group, thanking him for providing 30,000 testing reagents and 300,000 masks to the friendly people of Bangladesh in the fight against COVID-19.
Dr Momen extended sincere gratitude to the government of China and the people of China for taking utmost care of Bangladeshi students in Wuhan and other parts of China in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
In the letter, Dr Momen also invited Jack Ma to visit Bangladesh, said an official on Monday.
“With our younger and tech-savvy demography, there surely is considerable scope for my government and your side to collaborate in digital technology," the Foreign Minister mentioned in the letter.