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Governments and International Organizations Come Together to Address Economic Challenges and Sustainability

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NEW YORK, 28 May 2020 — United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau and the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, will convene world leaders and international organizations today in a joint initiative to sharpen and accelerate our global response to the significant economic and human impacts of COVID-19, and advance concrete solutions to the development emergency.

This pandemic requires a large-scale, coordinated, comprehensive multilateral response to support countries in need, enabling them to recover better for more prosperous and resilient and inclusive economies and societies.

With more than 50 Heads of State and Government participating, the High-Level Event on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond is the most inclusive gathering of countries to focus on the socio-economic recovery and financing needs from the pandemic. We must continue to coordinate these efforts to avoid a devastating impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

We all face economic strain in responding to this pandemic, particularly low- and middle-income countries, many of which are seeing their efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set back.

The High-Level Event looks at six urgent areas of action to mobilize the financing needed for the response and recovery. These include expanding liquidity across the global economy; addressing debt vulnerabilities; stemming illicit financial flows; increasing external finance for inclusive growth and job creation; and strategies for countries to recover better, achieve the SDGs, address climate change and restore the balance between the economy and nature.

“The pandemic has demonstrated our fragility,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “We are in an unprecedented human crisis, because of a microscopic virus. We need to respond with unity and solidarity, and a key aspect of solidarity is financial support.”

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness said “the COVID-19 pandemic demands that we take immediate action to address its impacts on the economies of all countries, in every region of the world and at every stage of development.” He added that he welcomes the six thematic areas of focus, including the “necessity to address the urgent need for increased liquidity, particularly for low- and middle-income countries.”

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that “all countries are being tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it threatens to undermine our hard-won development gains. We know the best way to help all our people and economies rebound is to work together as a global community. We want to support collective and individual actions to enable a recovery that leads to more inclusive, sustainable and resilient economies, where no one is left behind.” 

The cost of the pandemic
World Health Organization (WHO) figures show that the COVID-19 pandemic has already claimed more than 340,000 lives, with more than 5.4 million cases globally. Unless we act now, UN projections indicate that the pandemic could slash nearly $US8.5 trillion from the global economy over the next two years, forcing 34.3 million people into extreme poverty this year, and potentially, an additional 130 million people during this decade. 

Failing businesses are already causing a surge in unemployment. The International Labour Organization (ILO) expects that global working hours in the second quarter of 2020 will be 10.5 per cent lower than before the crisis, equivalent to 305 million full-time jobs. Women are particularly affected, as they are overrepresented in sectors that have been the most affected with initial job losses. They are also the majority of those employed in the informal sector globally and on the whole tend to hold less secure jobs with fewer protections, less savings, and are more likely to live in, or close to, poverty.

The pandemic is causing economic distress even in countries that have not yet experienced the health impact in large numbers. Falling exports and growth are rapidly undermining the debt sustainability of many developing countries, particularly those that are heavily dependent on commodities, tourism revenues or remittances. Growing debt distress poses an enormous challenge to these countries, further constraining their ability to implement stimulus measures.

Even prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, almost half of all least developed and other low-income countries were in, or close to, debt distress. Debt servicing costs for these countries more than doubled between 2000 and 2019, to 13 per cent of government revenue, and reached more than 40 per cent in a quarter of all Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Effective domestic resource mobilization will be crucial for rebuilding economies. Yet trillions of dollars are thought to be held in undeclared offshore financial holdings. The cost of money laundering has been estimated at around $US1.6 trillion a year.

Meeting the challenges
In the face of this unprecedented health, social and economic crisis, many governments across the world have rolled out large fiscal stimulus measures equivalent to an estimated 10 per cent of national gross domestic product (GDP). But most developing economies are finding it difficult or impossible to implement sufficiently large fiscal packages, which have so far averaged less than 1 per cent of their GDP.

In April 2020, the G-20 agreed to suspend debt service on bilateral official debt to 76 low-income developing countries to help increase liquidity to deal with the impacts of the crisis. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) offered further debt service relief to 25 of the poorest countries, and the World Bank has been coordinating with regional banks to discuss COVID-19 support, joint initiatives, co-financing, and ways to maximize net flows to the poorest and most vulnerable countries. But far more is needed, and quickly.

The High-Level Event will discuss a wide range of inclusive solutions, seeking input from the countries feeling the most impacted.

Rebuilding sustainably
In the initial containment and crisis phase of the pandemic, nations have prioritized the health of people before turning to the economic and labour market consequences.  As each nation charts its own course to recovery, countries are seeking to limit the economic fallout by taking steps to protect enterprises, jobs and incomes, and to stimulate the economy, and to do so in a way that protects women and families, young people, and the most vulnerable in our societies. 

We must raise our ambitions in order to recover better, by building more prosperous, inclusive, resilient and sustainable economies and societies. Countries cannot afford to leave unattended the underlying fragilities at the core of our current economic and social systems. We cannot wish away systemic risks, from the climate crisis to high and persistent inequality. Everyone will benefit if we address these risks by investing up front. 

The Event will include a High-Level Segment in which Heads of State and Government will express their commitment to finding multilateral solutions to the global economic crisis and its effects on the most vulnerable. In addition, a High-Level Panel of leaders from international institutions will discuss the challenges and opportunities for urgent, decisive action. Following the Panel, the High-Level Segment among Heads of State and Government, and partners will continue.

Six critical areas of focus
The Event will also launch a collaborative effort to enable discussions on concrete proposals to overcome challenges in six areas, and progress will be reported back at the margins of the High Level Political Forum in July, the General Assembly in September, and at the end of the year that include:

  1. The need to expand liquidity in the global economy and maintain financial stability to safeguard development gains. 
  2. The need to address debt vulnerabilities for all developing countries to save lives and livelihoods for billions of people around the world. 
  3. The need to create a space in which private sector creditors can proactively engage in effective and timely solutions.
  4. Prerequisites for enhancing external finance and remittances for inclusive growth and creating jobs.
  5. Measures to expand fiscal space and foster domestic resource mobilization by preventing illicit financial flows.
  6. Ensuring a sustainable and inclusive recovery by aligning recovery policies with the Sustainable Development Goals.

The outcomes of the High-Level Event include the formation of six discussions groups, a collaborative effort that aims at providing concrete proposals by mid-July.
There is no time to lose. Solutions cannot wait, and decisive action is required.

Courtesy of Office of the Prime Minister, Jamaica

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Health

[Excerpt] from an Mental Health & Well Being Open Consultation; United Kingdom

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May 19, 2022 – “Approximately 1 in 6 people aged 16 and over in England were identified as having a common mental health condition in 2014, according to survey data.  In 2020 to 2021, there were around half a million people with more severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. We have seen worrying trends for children and young people, with rates of probable mental health disorders in 6 to 16-year-olds rising from 11.6% in 2017 to 17.4% in 2021. More people than ever are receiving support for a mental health crisis and, tragically, the numbers of those ending their life through suicide have broadly increased over the past decade. We know that two-thirds of people who end their life by suicide are not in contact with NHS mental health services.

For many of us, the experience of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic – and its wide-ranging impacts on individuals, families, society and the economy – have brought these issues into sharper focus. Around 1 in 5 adults in Britain experienced some form of depression in the first 3 months of 2021, over double pre-pandemic figures.

These problems aren’t felt equally by all of us. We know there is an uneven distribution of mental ill-health across society. People facing social and economic disadvantage are at a much higher risk of developing mental health conditions. They are also more likely to receive care and support much later as their conditions escalate to crisis point. In 2020 to 2021, people living in the most deprived areas of England were twice as likely to be in contact with mental health services than those living in the least deprived areas.

There are also disparities by ethnicity, age, sexuality, and sex, and for people with learning disabilities, neurodiversity, and long-term physical health conditions. Risks of mental ill-health are also higher for people who are unemployed, people in problem debt, people who have experienced displacement, including refugees and asylum seekers, people who have experienced trauma as the result of violence or abuse, children in care and care leavers, people in contact with the criminal justice system (both victims and offenders), people who sleep rough or are homeless, people with substance misuse or gambling problems, people who live alone, and unpaid carers. People may belong to several disadvantaged groups at once, which is likely to compound the risk of experiencing mental ill-health. Addressing these disparities is critical to deliver the government’s ambition to level up the country and tackle disparities in health. We will set out more detail on our plans to reduce the gap in health outcomes between different places and communities across the country in our forthcoming health disparities white paper. See Annex A below on mental health disparities for more detail, which can be used as a point of reference when responding to our questions.

The impacts of mental ill-health on individuals, communities, society and the economy are substantial. Children and young people’s mental health conditions incur annual short-term costs estimated at £1.58 billion and annual long-term costs estimated at £2.35 billion.

Around 50% of mental health conditions are established by the time a child reaches the age of 14, and 75% by age 24.

Adults with mental health conditions are much more likely to be out of work, to have lower incomes, increased problems with their physical health, and increased involvement in the criminal justice system, both as victims and perpetrators.

The total annual cost of mental ill-health in the workplace to government has been estimated at between £24 billion and £27 billion. The overall annual loss to the economy has been estimated at between £70 billion and £100 billion. Losses are greater in places and among groups that experience mental health disparities.

Health is essential to a stable and functioning economy.

Our strong economic foundation going into the pandemic and the support provided throughout means we have made good economic progress.

However, we must continue to build back better as we begin to rebuild the economy. By improving mental health across the country, we can improve lives and livelihoods whilst reducing the demand on the NHS and pressure on other public services, and at the same time supporting economic growth.

A healthier and happier population is also more likely to access employment opportunities, which will reduce inactivity and improve productivity.

Reducing disparities in mental health between local areas is therefore critical to ensuring more equal access to opportunities and supporting the government’s Levelling Up agenda.”

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Africa

Natural Immunity less powerful against new Omicron strains in South Africa as Fifth Wave looms

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By Dana Malcolm

Staff Writer

 

#Africa, May 19, 2022 – South Africa is undergoing a massive covid surge with cases jumping by 50 percent in just 24 hours on May 5th. 9,757 new cases were reported on the 5th, 3,587 more positive results than the 6,170 recorded the day before.  For context, on April 5th, a month earlier 1538 new infections were recorded.

Since that 50 percent increase on May 5th daily new infections have consistently been above 2,900 reaching as high as 10,017 on May 11th. South Africa recorded over 86,000 new cases and over 550 deaths between May 5th and 16th in a time frame of less than 2 weeks.

Vaccine uptake in South Africa is below slightly above 50 percent with only 35 million fully vaccinated individuals in a population of more than 59 million.

Shabir Mahdi, a scientist leading vaccine trials in the country had suggested that natural immunity was what was helping with lower hospitalizations when omicron initially appeared in the country.

This latest increase however, is being driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub variants, which may be more adept at evading natural immunity.

In a study carried out by the Africa Health Research Institute blood samples from people infected with omicron but unvaccinated, when tested against BA.4 and BA.5, neutralizing antibodies which fight Covid were eight times lower. In people who contracted omicron and were vaccinated it was three times lower.

The study has not yet been peer reviewed but the researchers say, “The low absolute neutralization levels for BA.4 and BA.5, particularly in the unvaccinated group, are unlikely to protect well against symptomatic infection,”

“This may indicate that… BA.4 and BA.5 have potential to result in a new infection wave.”

That study was carried out back in January when the variants were first detected.

When the Omicron fueled fourth wave hit South Africa in 2021 cases in the United States, Canada and parts of Europe quickly followed. BA.4 and .5 have been detected in the US, Canada, China and parts of Europe.

On May 12th the BA.4 and.5 variants were both upgraded to variants of concern by the European Centre for Disease Control.

The ECDC says variants of concern are ones for which, “clear evidence is available indicating a significant impact on transmissibility, severity and/or immunity that is likely to have an impact on the epidemiological situation in the EU/EEA.”

The possible spike in cases comes one year and five months since the first COVID jabs in the world were administered in the UK and the US,  one year and four months since the first vaccine was administered in the Turks and Caicos.

Though boosters have been available in many countries worldwide booster campaigns have not been as effective as initial vaccination campaigns. Without the stretched protection of boosters many more people may remain vulnerable to this building wave of BA.4 or BA.5 vaccines.

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Caribbean News

List of Demands for UK, presented by Overseas Territories at May 4-6 meetings

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By Dana Malcolm

Staff Writer

 

#UnitedKingdom, May 19, 2022 – Speakers of the House from Overseas Territories in the Caribbean met with the UK House of Commons in the first ever Speaker-led conference to discuss issues relating to governance, climate and visibility in the House of Commons and provide the UK with an idea of what they say is necessary for OTs to survive.

The meeting held on May 4th to 6th was attended by Speakers from Anguilla, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands, the UK House of Commons and a representative from Gibraltar.

A communique released after the event made it clear that democracy was of utmost import to the small island states.

“We reaffirmed the central role played by legislatures in democratic life, our commitment to the principles of democracy in our legislatures, the sacredness of democracy and the need for partnership to sustain it. As our legislatures bring together all components of society, they are the cornerstones of democratic governance; they represent the wills and expressions of the people through scrutiny and democratic process,” it said.

Governance

In order to support the legislature the OTs requested that the UK government provide funding for them to have a ‘dedicated building in which to carry out its activities and duties’ as well as investment in the training of officials and sharing of best practices. The Speakers also requested that funding be provided for any constitutional reviews should the issue arise.

To ensure that the overseas territories have a voice in legislation in the UK that affects them the UK Speaker promised to explore opportunities for OTs to scrutinise these laws . Additionally the UK Speaker said the house of commons was willing to help facilitate parliamentary representation of the Overseas Territories at the UK Parliament if the territories decided they wanted to.

The Speakers requested that outside of this the UK provide detailed Impact Assessments for any bill that would affect them

Climate Change 

Aptly described as a climate emergency in the communique the speakers noted that while the OTs were bastions of nature  the volatility with which climate change was occurring would directly impact overseas territories first and worst.

“The Overseas Territories are custodians of internationally important habitats, which span the globe from the Antarctic to the Caribbean, the South Atlantic to the Pacific and the Indian Oceans with different geographical challenges…We recognise that the Overseas Territories have multiple levels of vulnerability including economic constraints and challenges of infrastructure which mean the impacts of the climate emergency can result in huge environmental disasters and economic impacts” it said.

Thus the countries called for long term, strategic action by the UK including dedicated and transparent funding to replace lost EU funding caused by Brexit. They also thanked the UK for their commitment to biodiversity.

The territories ended on a firm note emphasising their right to self-determination saying, “We reiterate our shared belief that the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, as enshrined in the UN Charter, applies to the peoples of the Overseas Territories.”

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