World Bank: COVID-19 stalls progress against poverty

Red Cross workers in Uganda
Red Cross workers in Uganda

Climate Centre / Flickr cc

As the global COVID-19 total closed in on 36 million cases, the World Bank today warned that COVID-19 is among the factors that could reverse progress in reducing extreme poverty. And India—the second hardest-hit country—reported some signs of a possible peak.

The global total today climbed to 35,980,287 cases, and 1,052,193 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online tracker.

Pandemic disruptions tipping more into poverty

In a new report on the status of poverty reduction efforts, the World Bank said extreme poverty has been declining steady for the 25 years that it has been formally tracking the trends.

The agency predicted, however, that the increase in poverty between 2019 and 2020 will be the largest it has recorded, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the newest threat. Other persistent factors include conflict and climate change.

The pandemic's impact on poverty will be swift and substantial, the World Bank said, sharply increasing the number of people living in extreme poverty by 88 million to 115 million. "The novel virus is disrupting everything from daily lives to international trade," it said. "The poorest are enduring the highest incidence of the disease and suffering the highest death rates worldwide."

Impacts from the pandemic will be felt by populations that had been relatively spared by other factors, with the newly poor likely to be more urban and educated than those who are chronically poor. Middle-income countries such as India and Nigeria could make up 75% of the newly poor group.

Along with its assessment, the World Bank also recommended steps to remove obstacles to reducing poverty, such as closing the gaps between policy aspirations and follow-through. It also urged countries to enhance learning from experiences and improving data, singling out the lessons South Korea learned from an earlier Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) outbreak that it applied to managing its COVID-19 outbreak.

Cases decline in India, rise in Europe

Daily cases in India reached an all-time high on Sep 17 but have been showing a downward trend, now averaging about 76,000 cases a day, Reuters reported. With the world's second biggest population, the country has reported the world's highest daily totals over the past several weeks.

India Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the drop in daily cases is encouraging, and experts see signs that infections may be peaking, with cases stabilizing in big cities that have been the country's main hot spots, possibly because large numbers have already been infected.

Elsewhere, some European countries reported record daily case totals and announced new steps to control their surges. Cases are reported to be rising the fastest in the Czech Republic, which reported a record 4,457 cases yesterday, and in the Netherlands, which reported a new daily high of nearly 5,000 cases.

In Brussels, the European capital with the second highest per capita number of infections behind Madrid, closed bars and cafes for the next month, Reuters reported, noting that later this week, officials will meet to discuss measures for keeping schools and universities open.

Lawmakers in Italy today issued a nationwide mandate that requires people to wear facemasks outdoors to curb cases that have been rising steadily for the past 2 months, Reuters reported. A similar rule had already been in effect for Rome and the surrounding Lazio region. The cabinet also extended the country's state of emergency until Jan 31, 2021.

Resurgence in the Caribbean

In the Americas, Brazil and the United States are the main drivers of new cases, but global health officials are also concerned about spikes in cases elsewhere, including countries such as Cuba and Jamaica that had effectively managed their outbreaks, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne, MBBS, MSc, said at a media briefing today.

Over the past 60 days, 11 countries and territories in the Caribbean have moved from moderate to intense transmission, a concerning development, given that many locations have reopened to air travel, she said.

The United States makes up more than 40% of new cases in the Americas, with blacks, Hispanics, and Native American populations three times more likely to contract the virus, five times more likely to be hospitalized, and twice as likely to die, Etienne said.

She also noted that indigenous people in Amazonian parts of Colombia and Brazil are 10 times more likely to contract COVID-19 and that PAHO increasingly worries about exposure to the virus among migrant and refugee populations.

Etienne noted that recent data suggest that in some of the region's countries, COVID-19 is taking a greater toll on younger people. Children account for more than half a million cases in the PAHO region, and the numbers continue to rise, she said, noting that although many won't become ill and require intensive care unit treatment, they are not immune to the disease's serious impacts.

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