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World grapples with economic repercussions of COVID-19

Call for COVID-19 open data

By Anyway Yotamu and Joyce Mukucha in Harare

World powers scrambled to build a global response to the human and economic catastrophe caused by the coronavirus  (COVID-19) pandemic, as death tolls in the US and Europe soared higher by Thursday 9th of April 2020.

In locked-down New York, the UN Security Council met on the pandemic for the first time, and in Brussels, EU finance ministers were wrangling over on how to bail out hard-hit Italy and Spain in Africa Health, finance and foreign Ministers hold their meeting through teleconferences.

On the spiritual front, the head of Catholic Church based in the Vatican, Pope Francis was celebrating Maundy Thursday with The Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St Peter’s Square but he was unable to perform the tradition of washing the feet of the faithful in fear of infections with the Catholic Dioceses world over conducted the Holy Mass online using Facebook and Instagram.

For Iran, the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Muslim worshippers world over to pray at home rather than in crowded mosques, even when the holy month of Ramadan begins later this month.

Yemen was already in the grip of a humanitarian tragedy caused by its civil war before the virus erupted, but on Thursday the Saudi-led coalition backing the government side began a unilateral “coronavirus ceasefire”.

Meanwhile, the number of worldwide cases of the novel coronavirus since it spread from China earlier this year topped 1.5 million, according to the World Health Organization. More than 88,981 people have died.

Alongside the personal tragedies and the pressure on overburdened hospitals, there has been a stark economic toll, with the World Tourism Organization(WTO) warning of the “worst recession of our lifetimes.”

The worst-hit countries in Europe, the worst-hit continent, are Italy and Spain, where daily death tolls are now down from their peaks but still running high, despite strict lockdowns.

Spain’s daily fatalities fell to 683 on Thursday, down from 757 the day before, while its total passed 15,000.

In Italy, the country’s youngest COVID-19 patient, a two-month-old baby girl, was reportedly released from the hospital, a bright moment of hope in a country with 17,669 dead.

EU rise to occasion Madrid and Rome are seeking assistance from EU partners to rebuild their economies in the wake of the disaster, but Germany has rejected the idea of joint borrowing and the Netherlands is blocking a compromise solution.

EU finance ministers were to meet on Thursday by videoconference for the second late-night crisis talks of the week to try to agree on terms to allow hard-hit members to access funds.

The head of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde said it was “vital” that ministers hatch a plan big enough to meet the challenge, warning: “If not all countries are cured, the others will suffer.”

European companies are also suffering under a public lockdown, which health experts say is vital to slow the virus’ spread but has effectively frozen economic life.

In one example, German airline Lufthansa warned it was losing one million euros (US$1.08 million) an hour and would need state aid.

The virus has travelled around the whole world and confined more than a third of humanity to their homes, but there has been a marked lack of international solidarity.

Thursday’s videoconference meeting of the UN Security Council will be the first on the crisis since it began.

Led by Germany, nine of the council’s 10 non-permanent members requested the closed-door meeting last week, fed up with the body’s inaction over the unprecedented global crisis.

Talks are moving in the right direction, diplomats said, and Washington is no longer insisting UN language refer to the virus as coming from China, which had infuriated Beijing.

Despite the pandemic’s origins, the United States is now the country hardest hit and UN host city New York is now America’s most infected. On Wednesday, for the second straight day, the US recorded nearly 2,000 deaths.

There has also been a week of record tolls in Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a fourth night in intensive care, his condition said to be “improving

And the pandemic is marching into areas previously only lightly affected: in Africa with most countries declared a state of emergency and Liberia said it was locking down its capital Monrovia and Zimbabwe currently under 21 Days of lockdown which is expected to end on the 19th of April with some people saying it could be extended due to the rise in cases though there are 11 confirmed cases with 3 deaths and most cases being recorded in the capital city of Harare.

A survey conducted by Spiked Online Media in Zimbabwe revealed the additional number of people living below UD$5 a day due to a drop in income with job loses  looming in sectors like fast foods outlets,restaurant and hotel employees being the most affected.

On Thursday President Emmerson Mnangagwa  delivered his Easter message to all Zimbabweans urging them to continue staying at home as his administration is working tirelessly to fight the spread of the pandemic.

Botswana President Masisi  has declared a  six month-long state of emergency in Gaborone and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa extended lockdown with another two weeks but  elsewhere the economic slowdown is starting to bite.

The continent also faces vast economic damage, with the World Bank warning that sub-Saharan Africa could slip into its first recession in a quarter of a century.

Around the world, medical facilities are at bursting point as they struggle with a relentless procession of critically-ill.

Recently,the WTO economists estimated that if the pandemic is brought under control relatively soon, trade and output could potentially rebound to their pandemic trajectory as early as 2021.

To have a deep understanding on how the pandemic is causing economic shocks in Zimbabwe, Spiked Online Media interviewed women and those in small businesses to learn how were they coping with the economic fallout.

On the economic front,the majority who are into business suggested that even the crisis rages, there was need for government  to start planning for this aftermath as well as laying a foundation for a strong and socially inclusive recovery.

“Deep supply and demand shocks have severely disrupted business operations, everything has been interrupted by emergency factory and border closures. We are pleading that the government take measures that mitigate the epidemic’s economic fallout,” said one of businessmen who runs a grocery shop in Harare.

From a women perspective, women who talked to Spiked Online Media revealed that outbreaks such as Covid-19 divert resources away from services that they need, even their burden of care increase and their paid livelihoods suffer losses.Globally women continue  to be paid 16 percent less than men on average.

Recently, the UN Women Executive Director, Phumuzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said, ” The majority of women work in the informal economy where health insurance is likely to be non-existent or inadequate and income is not secure.”

Others pointed out that disruptions including movement restrictions were compromising women’s ability to make a living and meet their families basic needs. The closure of many institutions, to contain the spread of Covid-19, women revealed, was affecting their ability to engage in paid work faces extra barriers. Also, the health services are overstretched and women’s access to pre-and post-natal health care and contraceptives is dwindling.

“The economic impacts of Covid-19 are hitting hard on us as women. We work in low paying, insecure and informal jobs. Our plea as women who run small businesses is that government should focus on economic recovery solutions to support our businesses as well as mitigate the negative economic impact of the outbreak,” said a Harare business woman who is into fresh farm produce.

In line with this, in China, for instance,UN Women is focusing on economic recovery solutions to support small and medium businesses owned by women to mitigate the negative economic impacts of the pandemic. It has also supported outreach campaigns to promote leadership and contributions in the Covid-19 response reaching more than 32 million people.

Other Zimbabwean women said there was a need for government and other organisations to focus on programmes that build women’s resilience for this and future shocks so that they have the resources they need for themselves and their families.

On the UN Women website, Sarah Hendriks, who is the Director of Policy, Programme and Intergovernmental Division at UN Women highlighted they were working with other partners to ensure that the gender-differential impact of COVID-19 is taken into account in the response strategies at country, regional and global levels.

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Byron Adonis Mutingwende