Covid -19: Swift policy action, strong leadership can save millions of jobs
By Abbas Farzami
As dire forecasts about the global economy add to the anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN’s labour agency (ILO) on Thursday offered a range of urgent measures, which, if governments act quickly, can help to protect workers in the workplace, stimulate the economy and save millions of jobs.
Noting that the economic and labour crisis created by the pandemic could greatly increase worldwide unemployment, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that an internationally-coordinated policy response – as happened in the 2008 financial crisis – could significantly lower the impact on global unemployment.
“This is no longer only a global health crisis, it is also a major labour market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on people”, said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “In 2008, the world presented a united front to address the consequences of the global financial crisis, and the worst was averted. We need that kind of leadership and resolve now”.
ILO’s new report, COVID-19 and the world of work: Impacts and responses, calls for urgent, large-scale measures across three pillars: protecting workers in the workplace; stimulating the economy and employment; and supporting jobs and incomes – each to include measures to extend social protections and support employment retention and financial and tax relief.
“In times of crisis like the current one, we have two key tools that can help mitigate the damage and restore public confidence”, said the ILO chief.
He called the first, for social dialogue and to engage with workers, employers and their representatives, “vital for building public trust and support for the measures that we need to overcome this crisis”.
According to Mr. Ryder, the second tool, for international labour standards, provides a “tried-and-trusted foundation” for policy responses that focus on a recovery that is sustainable and equitable.
To protect workers in the workplace, ILO advocated for teleworking and staggered hours; greater paid sick leave; occupational support – such as hotlines and dedicated websites; and to stem any and all discrimination and exclusion – including stigmatization.
Other protective measures include childcare support for working parents when schools and nurseries are closed.
Kickstart the economic
Active fiscal and monetary policies, such as cutting interest rates, can stimulate the economy and accelerate employment, in line with the second pillar.
Tax breaks and waivers for social security contributions, as well as extending deadlines for mortgage payments and financially supporting specific sectors, including the health, can also help mitigate coronavirus-related economic impacts.
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ILO stated that work reduction, compensation arrangements and social assistance would help to support employment and incomes.
The UN agency pointed out that several countries are introducing financial support and tax relief, including for small merchants and that affected companies could also benefit from postponing social or tax installments, or even tax rebates in the most extreme or difficult situations.
While these measures will help to contain the pandemic, to respond to the emergency needs it has generated and to pave the way to a gradual recovery, ILO acknowledged that more needs to be done.
Looking back at past crises and the experiences of the countries that have reacted too late to the current COVID-19 crisis, ILO underscored the urgency of preparedness and early action.
“Everything needs to be done to minimize the damage to people at this difficult time”, concluded Mr. Ryder.
UN humanitarian agency issues reminder that millions need humanitarian aid, WHO Europe wants countries to take “bold steps” to stop coronavirus, and a UN-backed narcotics body calls for sufficient stocks of medicine to be maintained.
Millions still need life-saving UN support, reminds humanitarian official
A senior UN humanitarian official issued a reminder, on Tuesday, that millions of vulnerable people are still relying on the Organization’s life-saving assistance to survive.
Speaking to UN News in Geneva, Jens Laerke, Deputy Spokesperson at the UN's humanitarian coordination office, or OCHA, said that some of the countries affected by the coronavirus pandemic are already in humanitarian crisis -- due to conflicts, natural disasters and climate change.
“It is extremely important that we continue the life-saving work in these countries”, he said, “and that we sustain the humanitarian response across the world”.
OCHA teams in Geneva, said Mr. Laerke, are supporting the coordination, information management and logistics of humanitarian support. In the field, OCHA is also working to bolster countries that either already have COVID-19 cases or may see them in the future.
“It's very important that we leave no one behind in this crisis, and we must beat back this together”, he added, echoing UN calls for global solidarity.
‘Take the boldest action to stop or slow the spread of the virus’: WHO Europe chief
With Europe now the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, every country, with no exceptions, must take the boldest action to stop or slow the spread of the virus, said Hans Kluge, Europe chief of the World Health Organization, WHO, on Tuesday.
Mr. Kluge, speaking from an empty WHO regional office in Copenhagen, where staff are now working remotely, declared that, at a time when the demand for WHO support is growing, the virus “can be beaten back by solidarity within communities, within nations and within our region”
“Everyone in society has a role to play: not to be infected yourself, and if you are infected, to protect others, especially the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions”.
Are governments doing enough?
With many people asking if governments are doing enough to stop the virus, the WHO Europe chief said, adding that the whole of the region – where a third of global cases are now being reported – is “alert and on guard”, with preparedness, readiness and response measures on multiple levels.
Mr. Kluge explained that the context for each country is different, depending on the level of infection, and the speed at which COVID-19 is spreading.
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Basic actions are the same, he said, but the emphasis changes depending on which stage a country has reached. All countries, though, should work to “prepare and be ready; detect, protect and treat; reduce transmission; and innovate and learn, while protecting the vulnerable people”.
Ensure access to medicine: UN narcotics body
Meanwhile, the International Narcotics Control Board, based in Vienna, wants governments to ensure that national plans to counter coronavirus do not interfere with the supply of controlled substances, such as pain relief medication.
The UN-backed body also called on all countries to ensure that there are sufficient buffer stocks of controlled substances to guarantee availability of those medicines throughout the duration of the pandemic.
The President of the Board, Cornelis P. de Joncheere, has reminded Governments that, in acute emergencies, it is possible to use simplified control procedures for the export, transportation and provision of medicinal products containing controlled substances.
With South-East Asia reporting more than 480 cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday called for countries to “act now” and urgently scale-up “aggressive” measures to tackle the disease.
Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director, warned that the situation is evolving rapidly.
“More clusters of virus transmission are being confirmed. While this is an indication of an alert and effective surveillance, it also puts the spotlight on the need for more aggressive and whole of society efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19. We clearly need to do more, and urgently”, she said.
The 11 countries in WHO’s South-East Asia Region are home to over a quarter of the global population.
Eight have confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease: Thailand, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.
Dr. Singh said the numbers indicate that some countries are clearly heading towards community transmission of the viral disease.
If this occurs, they will have to work to slow down transmission, as well as end outbreaks.
“We need to be geared to respond to the evolving situation with the aim to stop transmission of COVID-19 at the earliest to minimize the impact of the virus that has gripped over 150 countries in a short span of time, causing substantial loss to health of people, societies, countries and economies”, she said.
“Urgent and aggressive measures are the need of the hour. We need to act now”.
Dr. Singh highlighted the critical importance of continuous efforts to detect, test, treat and isolate patients, and to trace contacts.
People also are asked to follow WHO advice on reducing transmission through measures, such as proper handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and practicing social distancing.