Tag Archives: Pandemic

COVID-19: What You Should Know About Masks

About the author

Tabitha Kwon is a student at Yonsei University, Seoul, Republic of Korea. From January through April 2020, she served as a United Nations intern working in the UN Chronicle Unit, Outreach Division, Department of Global Communications.

A few months ago, some of my fellow United Nations interns and I enjoyed a meal at a Vietnamese restaurant in the East Village neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York City. The very next day, a woman wearing a yellow face mask—the kind now commonly worn to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus—was allegedly called “diseased” and physically attacked by a man at the Grand Street Subway station,1 not far from where we had dined. The virus doesn’t discriminate, but antagonism against people thought to have the virus seemed to be escalating. Strikingly, I found that many hate crimes occurring worldwide were being committed against people wearing masks.

My home country, the Republic of Korea, was one of the first epicentres of the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by Italy, Spain and the United States. When the case counts exponentially soared there in late February 2020, my parents cried on the phone that they were relieved that I was in the United States. Masks, which were once very easy to find in Korea, were being worn compulsively by anyone needing to leave their homes, and in just a few weeks had thus become difficult to purchase. On a designated day each week, my parents had to stand in queue for hours to buy a mask, often only to find out that they were too late. On such occasions, they would inevitably have to wear the disposable masks they’d already worn for days, afraid that they would be stared at if they didn’t.

While the curve started to flatten in the Republic of Korea, the number of confirmed cases began to skyrocket in New York. My parents called again, this time urging me to put on a mask whenever I had to leave the house. But unlike back home, where disposable masks are normally sold in every pharmacy, I could not find a single mask in any of the well-known pharmacies in New York. Not only were masks uncommon in the United States, but many Asians wearing them were being wrongly identified as virus infectors. I was too afraid to stroll around the streets with a mask on and refused to do so. While the press in the United States announced that masks should only be worn by those who had symptoms, the public in my home country were baffled by the fact that many Westerners were busily heading to grocery stores without wearing masks at all.

Culture matters

In late January, the citizens of the cities of Asan, Jincheon and Icheon in the Republic of Korea finally decided to welcome its residents coming home from Wuhan, China, where the pandemic is thought to have begun, instead of opposing their entry. “If it is guaranteed that necessary preventive measures would be made, I’ll delightfully wish the best for their health. They weren’t in Wuhan [on] purpose”, citizens said.2 The Government continued to embrace Chinese entrants, explaining that border shutdowns not only have no practical benefits, but also among all confirmed patients in the country, very few were Chinese.3 Without the kind of strict cross-border restrictions and lockdowns that were imposed in other countries, the Republic of Korea was able to lower its infection rate by mid-March. This was made possible not only by the country’s well-founded health-care system, but also through extensive tracking and transparency. The movements of a confirmed patient could be retraced immediately so that the Government could test or quarantine all other contacted persons. Based on the data collected from surveillance camera footage and credit card usage, a COVID-19 patient’s movements could be recreated and delivered to people nearby via text message. Apps providing visual maps derived from the released information were also easily accessible.4

Although cross-border restrictions may exist, they should not divide our unity to fight this virus together.

The willingness and consent of the people of the Republic of Korea to sacrifice privacy rights in the interest of public safety and the resulting epidemiological survey conducted during the national emergency demonstrate the collectivist mindset inherent in the culture. The English word “conflict” comes from the Latin word confligere, which means “strike together” or “fight”. Conflicts are often compared to fire and referred to as something to be extinguished. The word “conflict” in Korean refers to a situation in which two different types of climbing plants that tend to twine in opposite directions are entangled.5 To solve such “conflicts”, it is important to “disentangle the skein of thread”. Thus, in the Republic of Korea, someone who has been confirmed to have COVID-19 is not seen as someone to cut off, but rather to disentangle as part of the whole. Exhaustive monitoring and publication of information, and not missing or excluding one single person, as in acupuncture, in which needles are inserted into the whole body for blood circulation, were crucial in the Korean perspective. In the same vein, each individual’s responsibility to wear masks to partake in protecting the whole society, including the vulnerable, was an obvious virtue in my country.

In the more individualistic Western countries, which are more familiar with surgery than acupuncture, containment strategies that include lockdowns are being extensively utilized. Along the same lines, in the United States, masks have traditionally been seen as a means to sort out the sick, or in some cases, even indicated that the wearer was a menacing person. As evident in the fact that many States and the European Union have a history of considering or actually enacting anti-mask laws for decades, the anxiety about face covering is prevalent in Western society. With this in mind, it is understandable that the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took a month to rethink and eventually reverse its guidance on wearing masks to deal with the pandemic.

A bottle of hand sanitizer provided for public use, attached to a COVID-19 health advisory sign in the Republic of Korea. Photo provided by Tabitha Kwon.

Time for solidarity

Neither culture is superior; rather, they are complementary. Every culture has a vital role in defeating COVID-19 today. The term “social distancing” is being widely used these days; the practice is seen as key to slowing the spread of the virus and saving the vulnerable. As odd as this phrase seems, composed of two words of opposite meanings, it embraces both collectivism and individualism. It emphasizes that keeping physical distance for the sake of others is necessary amid the global pandemic.

All cultures are worthy of respect, and many cultures worldwide are changing and creating new phenomena, as we see in the decision by Germany to require mask usage outdoors. A day after Philadelphia’s transit authority announced a policy barring passengers without face coverings from using its services, however, a video of a man without a mask being forcibly dragged off of a city bus surfaced online. The video provoked outrage from many, while others argued that the police action was a necessary measure considering the global crisis. The transit authority later amended its policy, stating that face coverings were no longer mandatory, but recommended.6

People are bound to be confused in the midst of shifting cultural norms. Indeed, it stands to reason that people may feel anxious in such a state of uncertainty and change. However, with a better understanding of other cultures, perceptions and situations, humanity can overcome hatred and abandon the need to scapegoat. It is time for solidarity and global cooperation for world peace and well-being. Although cross-border restrictions may exist, they should not divide our unity to fight this virus together. For the sake of the most vulnerable, including the elderly among us, refugees in camps and the homeless in the streets, the international community should come together and demonstrate global citizenship to fight this virus in these unprecedented times.

Notes

1 David K. Li, “Coronavirus hate attack: Woman in face mask allegedly assaulted by man who calls her ‘diseased’”, NBC News, 5 February 2020. Available at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/coronavirus-hate-attack-woman-face-mask-allegedly-assaulted-man-who-n1130671.

2 Jong-gu Han, “’Please Make Yourself at Home,’ Asan Citizens’ Campaign on Social Media to Welcome Evacuees from Wuhan,” Yonhap News, 31 January, 2020. Available at https://www.yna.co.kr/view/AKR20200131072100063.

3 Sungmin Yoon, “‘This is not to please China:’ President Moon’s 5 reasons for not imposing travel ban on China,” Joongang Ilbo, 27 February 2020. Available at https://news.joins.com/article/23717377

4 Max Fisher and Sang-Hun Choe, “How South Korea Flattened the Curve,” New York Times, 23 March 2020. Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/world/asia/coronavirus-south-korea-flatten-curve.html.

5 Soo-Young Kwon, “[Reasons and Reflections] Why We Should Not Cut off Relationships, but Solve Conflicts,” The Kyunghyang Shinmun, 10 January 2020. Available at http://news.khan.co.kr/kh_news/khan_art_view.html?art_id=202001102101035

6 Cailtin O’Kane, “Philadelphia transit officials change policy on masks after video shows man being dragged off bus,” CBS News, 13 April 2020. Available at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-philadelphia-bus-septa-face-mask-policy-video-shows-man-being-dragged-by-police/.

25 June 2020

Feature photo credit: A street scene from the Republic of Korea during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo provided by Tabitha Kwon.

The  UN Chronicle  is not an official record. The views expressed by individual authors, as well as the boundaries and names shown and the designations used in maps or articles, do not necessarily imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations. 

AU study: COVID-19 could cost Africa $500 billion, damage tourism and aviation sectors

Kingsley Ighobor

About the author: is a public information officer for the United Nations, New York. He is the managing editor at the Africa Renewal.

Up to 20 million jobs in the formal and informal sectors in Africa could be lost because of COVID-19, according to a new study by the African Union.Released in early April, the study found that foreign direct investment (FDI), tourism receipts

Kingsley Ighobor

and remittance flows will also suffer significant declines as the continent tackles the pandemic. Titled The Impact of Coronavirus on the African Economy, the study modelled two scenarios, each with equal chance of being realized. Under scenario one (realistic), the pandemic will be contained within five months, inflicting minimal damage; under scenario two, the pandemic will last for eight months and countries will be severely affected.

The more optimistic scenario one projects a 2020 GDP growth of -08% while the pessimistic scenario two will result in -1.1% growth. Given that the continent’s 2020 GDP growth had been projected at 3.4%, even the optimistic scenario is a significant decline of 4.18% while the pessimistic scenario projects a decline of 4.51%.

The negative growth would be due to a “disruption of the world economy through global value chains, the abrupt fall in commodity prices and fiscal revenues and the enforcement of travel and social restrictions.”

Furthermore, a 35% dip in exports and imports would be worth $270 billion. Yet, Africa will require $130 billion to “fight against the spread of the virus and medical treatment,” stated the African Union.

Drop in oil prices

Africa will lose between 20% and 30% of its fiscal revenue, which was 500 billion in 2019, forcing governments to resort to borrowing to meet the shortfall. Commodity-dependent countries such as Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Republic of the Congo will be most affected.

The slump in oil price to below $30 a barrel, and a nosedive of the tourism and air transport sectors, will upend countries’ development agendas.

The tourism and oil sectors represent 25% of the GDPs of Africa’s top five economies—Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco. The study emphasized that, “The level of the impact of COVID-19 on these five economies will be representative for the whole of the African economy.”
Oil constitutes 90% of Nigeria’s exports and 70% of its national budget, meaning that any dip in price will have an impact on earnings. Both Nigeria and Angola, Africa’s top two oil producers, could lose up to $65 billion in income.

Effects on tourism

In South Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the countries’ main sources of income—mining and tourism. With 10.47 million arrivals in 2018, the country was second only to Egypt in tourism receipts, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Overall, tourism contributed $194.2 billion or 8.5% to Africa’s GDP in 2018.

Tourism in Morocco will take a hit too, along with its automotive industry, which represented 6% of the country’s GDP in 2019.

The study mentioned that, “Tourism employs more than a million people in each of the following countries: Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania. … and more than 20 per cent of total employment in Seychelles, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Mauritius.”
Already, Africa’s tourism and aviation sectors are reeling from the impact of COVID-19 with hotels laying off workers and travel agencies shutting down.

“Under the average [realistic] scenario, the tourism and travel sectors in Africa could lose at least $50 billion… and at least two million direct and indirect jobs.”

Top African airlines, including Ethiopian Airlines, EgyptAir, Kenya Airways and South African Airways, will be affected by travel restrictions across the world.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Africa’s air transport industry contributes up to $55.8 billion (2.6%) to Africa’s GDP and supports 6.2 million jobs. By 11 March, African airlines had lost $4.4 billion in revenue due to fallout from the pandemic.

Drop in FDI

The study estimated a drop of between -5% and -15% in FDI in Africa. Data published in 2019 by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) lists Africa’s top five FDI countries:
South Africa ($5.3 billion), Egypt ($6.8 billion), Republic of the Congo (4.3 billion), Morocco ($3.6 billion) and Ethiopia ($ 3.3 billion). In total Africa received $46 billion.

Remittance flows are also expected to decrease, crunching cash in many economies. “Remittances range as high as 23% in Lesotho and more than 12% in Comoros, The Gambia, and Liberia,” the study stated.

With advanced economies in recession, official development assistance (ODA), which many African countries rely on to finance development, will come in trickles, if at all.
COVID-19 will likely affect the launch of a free trade that was set to begin in July 2020 under the African Continental Free Trade Area. Total Africa trade for 2019 was $760 billion or 29% of the continent’s GDP. Of that amount, intra-Africa trade was just 17%.

For more information on COVID-19

Africa Renewal

United Nations Secretary-General launches plan to address the potentially devastating socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 Establishes global fund to support low- and middle-income countries

PRESS RELEASE

NEW YORK, 31 MARCH 2020—The new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is attacking societies at their core, claiming lives and people’s livelihoods. The potential longer-term effects on the global economy and those of individual countries are dire.

In a new report, Shared responsibility, global solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic

UNSG Antonio Guterres

impacts of COVID-19, the United Nations Secretary-General calls on everyone to act together to address this impact and lessen the blow to people.

The report describes the speed and scale of the outbreak, the severity of cases, and the societal and economic disruption of COVID-19, which has so far claimed the lives of 33 257 people, with 697 244 confirmed cases in 204 countries, areas and territories.

“COVID-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations. “This human crisis demands coordinated, decisive, inclusive and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies – and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries.”

The report comes after the IMF has announced that the world has entered into a recession as bad or worse than in 2009. The report calls for a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response amounting to at least 10 percent of global GDP.

The United Nations system—and its global network of regional, sub-regional and country offices working for peace, human rights, sustainable development and humanitarian action, will support all governments and partners through the response and recovery.

To that end, the Secretary-General has established a dedicated COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to support efforts in low- and middle-income countries. Its approach underpins the reformed UN with a coordinated multi-agency, multi-sectoral response for priority national and local actions to address the socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. It will count on the country leadership of Resident Coordinators and UN Country Teams in swiftly supporting and enabling governments in this crisis, and recovery.

NOTES TO EDITORS

The shared responsibility and global solidarity roadmap calls for:
• Suppressing the transmission of the virus to control the pandemic.
• Safeguarding people’s lives and their livelihoods.
• Learning from this human crisis to build back better.

Suppressing the transmission of the virus to control the pandemic

The report warns that there is no time to lose in mounting the most robust and cooperative health response the world has ever seen. The strongest support must be provided to the multilateral effort to suppress transmission and stop the pandemic, led by the World Health Organization. At the same time there is great need for scientific collaboration in the search for a vaccine and effective therapeutics. This must be matched with assurances of universal access to vaccines and treatment. Throughout the report a people-centred approach is promoted that calls for engaging communities affected by COVID-19, respect for human rights and inclusion, gender equality and dignity for all.

Safeguarding people’s lives and their livelihoods

Recognizing that epidemics can expose and exacerbate existing inequalities in society, the road map shows it will be crucial to cushion the knock-on effects on people’s lives, their livelihoods and the economy. The report highlights examples of actions countries could take, such as direct provision of resources to support workers and households, provision of health and unemployment insurance, scaling-up of social protection, and support to businesses to prevent bankruptcies and job loss. The report strongly recognizes that women and girls must have a face in the response; and opportunities for young people, seriously affected, need to be preserved.

Learn from this crisis to build back better

The world will be faced with a choice in its recovery. Go back to the world we knew before or deal decisively with those issues that make everyone unnecessarily vulnerable to this and future crises. From stronger health systems and fewer people living in extreme poverty to achieving gender equality and taking climate action for a healthy planet, the report gives hope that lessons from this human crisis can build more just and resilient societies and deliver on the promise of the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Partnerships for progress

No single country or entity will win alone against the pandemic. A successful response and recovery will require international cooperation and partnerships at every level — governments taking action in lock step with communities; private sector engagement to find pathways out of this crisis. Partnerships based on solidarity will be the cornerstone for progress. Civil Society, women and grassroots organizations, community-based organizations and faith-based organizations will play a vital role. In assisting the most vulnerable populations, these networks are active in bringing economic and livelihood opportunities and adapting responses to the community context. These organizations, in many locations in the world, are the first, or only, point of reference for individuals and families as they seek to cope with the impacts of COVID-19 and for the recovery ahead.

Call to action

The COVID-19 Pandemic is a defining moment for modern society, and history will judge the efficacy of the response not by the actions of any single set of government actors taken in isolation, but by the degree to which the response is coordinated globally across all sectors for the benefit of our human family.

The United Nations and its global network of regional, sub-regional and country offices working for peace, human rights, sustainable development and humanitarian action, supported by established coordination mechanisms, will work with partners to ensure first and foremost that lives are saved, livelihoods are restored, and that the global economy and the people we serve emerge stronger from this crisis.
The 129 UN Resident Coordinators and the UN Country Teams will provide comprehensive policy and operational support at the national level in support of a whole of society approach in countries. With the right actions, the COVID-19 pandemic can mark the beginning of a new type of global and societal cooperation.

Recommended measures to cope with the impacts of COVID-19:

1. Global measures to match the magnitude of the crisis
• Advocate and support implementation of a human-centered, innovative and coordinated stimulus package reaching double-digit percentage points of the world’s gross domestic product.
• Resist the temptation to resort to protectionist measures.
• Take explicit measures to boost the economies of developing countries.

2. Regional mobilization
A coordinated regional approach will enable collective examination of impacts, coordination of monetary, fiscal and social measures, and sharing best practices and the lessons learned. • Adopt DO NO HARM trade policies, preserve connectivity, and ensure regional monetary-fiscal coordination. • Engage with private financial sector to support businesses. • Address structural challenges and strengthen normative frameworks to deal with transboundary risks.

3. National solidarity is crucial to leave no one behind
The pandemic is hitting an already weak and fragile world economy. Global growth in 2019 was already the slowest since the global financial crisis of 2008/2009. According to ILO estimates, the world could lose between 5 million and 25 million jobs.
• Undertake fiscal stimulus and support for the most vulnerable.
• Protect Human Rights and focus on inclusion.
• Support to Small and Medium sized Enterprises.
• Support decent work.
• Support education.
• Prioritize social cohesion measures.

COVID-19 socio-economic estimates for 2020 as of March 2020
5 – 25 million jobs lost (ILO)

US$ 860 billion – US$ 3.4 trillion losses in labor income (ILO)

30% — 40% downward pressure on global foreign direct investment flows (UNCTAD)

20% – 30% decline in international arrivals (UNWTO)

3.6 billion people offline (ITU)

1.5 billion students out of school (UNESCO)

 

UN stands with Zambia as the country confirms 16 COVID-19 cases

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Lusaka, 27 March 2020: Following the announcement that Zambia has now confirmed 16 cases

Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio, UN Resident Coordinator Zambia.

of COVID-19, the United Nations family in Zambia under the leadership of the Resident Coordinator stands in solidarity with the Government and people of Zambia as they respond to the global pandemic.

“As the United Nations, we stand with Zambia and pledge our continued assistance through the Government in ensuring that the pandemic is contained. Under the lead of the World Health Organisation (WHO), we will continue supporting the Government with contingency planning and response, resource mobilisation and Risk Communication and Community Engagement.”

“With support from our cooperating partners, the UN will contribute to ongoing efforts by the Government including training of technical staff and helping strengthen surveillance in communities, procurement of personal protective equipment and essential medicines, promoting Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in health facilities and strengthening infection prevention and control,” said UN Resident Coordinator, Dr Coumba Mar Gadio.

Additional support will go towards strengthening health systems to effectively deliver health services, including supporting human resources for health to provide antenatal care, safe delivery and addressing sexual and Gender-Based Violence, which increases in times of crises.

The UN is also working with the Government on the development of a multisectoral contingency plan, leaving no one behind, and assessment of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic in Zambia.

Members of the public are key in helping respond to COVID-19. Every individual should do their part while avoiding panic and stigmatization to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including regular and correct hand washing with soap and water.

Other measures include coughing or sneezing into a tissue or a bent elbow, being sure to safely dispose of the tissue afterwards, maintaining a distance of at least one meter from one another (also called social distancing) whether or not that person is coughing or sneezing, avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth. It is also important to seek medical attention early if a person develops a fever, cough or difficulty in breathing as well as to stay at home if ill.

Zambia joins over 44 other African countries with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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For more information, please contact:

United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Lusaka, Mark Maseko, National Information Officer, P: +260-211-225-494 | M: + 260-955767062 | E: masekom@un.org