China’s experience in containing the spread of the new coronavirus could serve as a lesson for other countries now facing the COVID-19 pandemic, a senior official with the World Health Organization (WHO) has told UN News in an in-depth interview.
While more than 153,00 cases of the respiratory illness have been recorded globally as of Sunday, it is on the decline in China, demonstrating that the course of the outbreak there has been altered, according to WHO Representative in the country, Dr. Gauden Galea.
“It is an epidemic that has been nipped as it was growing and stopped in its tracks. This is very clear from the data that we have, as well as the observations that we can see in society in general”, he told UN News in the capital, Beijing, on Saturday.
“So that’s a big lesson: that the natural course of the outbreak does not need to be a very high peak that overwhelms health services. This lesson in containment, therefore, is a lesson that other countries can learn from and adapt for their own circumstances”.
Understanding ‘a pneumonia of unknown cause’
COVID-19 is the most recently discovered of the coronaviruses which are known to cause respiratory infections such as MERS and SARS.
WHO has been on the case since 31 December, when it was first informed that “a pneumonia of unknown cause” had been detected in Wuhan, the largest city in Hubei province in central China.
Dr. Galea reported that there were three main questions to understand during this initial phase: How the virus was being transmitted, its severity, and control measures.
“In a way, the first three weeks were very deeply involved in looking into the local epidemiological investigation, in asking questions of the national investigators, seeking interpretation by international networks of experts, developing risk communications around the information that we had, sending out the message across the media, reaching out to partners in the UN and in the missions in China based in Beijing”, he said.
Dr. Galea and colleagues travelled to Wuhan from 20-21 January, just days before the city was subjected to a lockdown. At the time, there was no overwhelming demand on the health services, though the situation had changed when Chinese and international health experts conducted a joint mission a month later.
Dr. Galea understood that while there were shortcomings at the time, and allegations of cover-ups, creating an “alternative history” would have been difficult.
He highlighted the “high price” paid by Wuhan’s citizens with the lockdown, thus “buying time” for the rest of China and the world.
“But that containment was effective and did allow the rest of China to be able to contain the outbreak in a very effective manner. The shape of the epidemic and the small number of cases that were seen outside Hubei are a testimony to the success and the effectiveness”, he said.
“It’s very important to realise that such shortcomings are not unique to China, and that very few countries are manifesting any greater speed in action”.
From international emergency to pandemic
Following two meetings of its Emergency Committee, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on 30 January declared the new disease a public health emergency of international concern: the agency’s highest ranking of risk assessment.
WHO then set up what Dr. Galea described as a “research blueprint” and began shipping testing kits and personal protective equipment to other countries.
Last week, WHO announced that COVID-19 could be characterized as a pandemic: the first to be sparked by a coronavirus.
“When you realise that a public health emergency of international concern was declared on January 30, and as we speak, we are now mid-March, it’s very important to understand that any country that still has not heeded the call needs to be acting and acting fast: not least preparing the population through appropriate risk communication”, said Dr. Galea.
Sharing lessons learned
With the caseload in China on the decline, WHO is working to share lessons learned there for the benefit of other countries now facing COVID-19.
Dr. Galea praised the timely cooperation with the National Health Commission, its counterpart in the country. Early and frequent exchanges resulted in sharing of the genetic sequence of the virus, as well as the specifications for designing tests so other countries would be able to identify it.
“The biggest conclusion is that China has demonstrated that the course of the outbreak can be altered. Normally, an outbreak of this nature would have exponential growth, would reach a high peak, and would then decline naturally once all susceptible people have been infected, or developed the disease. This has not happened in China in a number of ways,” he said.
“One: the shape of the course of the events – the graph, the epidemic curve, as we call it, of the numbers of cases over time – appears very unnatural. It is an epidemic that has been nipped as it was growing and stopped in its tracks. This is very clear from the data that we have, as well as the observations that we can see in society in general.
“So, that’s a big lesson that the natural course of the outbreak does not need to be a very high peak that overrwhelms health services. This lesson in containment, therefore, is a lesson that other countries can learn from and adapt for their own circumstances”.
Use the tools
One lesson so far has been the importance of having strong national public health systems. Dr. Galea underlined the need for preparation, and the value of providing all citizens with access to health care.
At the individual level, he urged people not to panic and to follow procedures for reducing the risk of spread, such as proper hand-washing, covering your nose when sneezing, coughing into your elbow, and working from home where possible.
Said Dr. Galea: “People would have heard these things many times, but one can never repeat them enough or with enough force. This is the way. These are the tools we have now. Use them.”
Kenya Receives $750 million Boost for COVID-19 Recovery Efforts
To reinforce Kenya’s resilient, inclusive and green economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, the World Bank approved $750 million in development policy financing to support policy reforms that will strengthen transparency and accountability in public procurement and promote efficient public investment spending.
This development policy operation supports measures to improve medium-term fiscal and debt sustainability through greater transparency and efficiency in government spending, building on ongoing World Bank support to enhance public finance management systems. The operation provides for the establishment of an electronic procurement platform for the public sector that seeks to make government purchases of goods and services transparent. This will help increase accountability in public spending and reduce opportunities for corruption. The support also strengthens public investment management by seeking cost-savings and applying rigorous selection and monitoring and evaluation criteria to all projects. Both measures are expected to yield fiscal savings of up to $2.6 billion.
“The operation prioritizes reforms in hard hit sectors, such as healthcare, education, and energy, which have been made urgent by the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Keith Hansen, World Bank Country Director for Kenya. “In recognition of the severity of the crisis and need for a comprehensive response, we are supporting the government’s post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery Strategy, which is designed to mitigate the adverse socioeconomic effects of the pandemic and accelerate economic recovery and attain higher and sustained economic growth.”
The policy operation also prioritizes energy sector reforms to improve electricity access and ensure that Kenyans benefit from least-cost, clean energy sources. Further, the new policy framework will help strengthen Kenya Power and Lighting Company’s (KPLC’s) finances with a new competitive pricing regime.
Kenyans will also benefit from better healthcare and disease prevention, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable households, through National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) governance reforms and the establishment of the Kenya Center for Disease Control (KCDC) to strengthen disease prevention, detection, and response. Reforms will further seek to provide Kenyans with more equitable access to higher education, through a performance-based funding method to reduce the imbalances and inefficiencies created by the existing funding model for universities.
“Stabilizing the debt trajectory and reducing high debt costs is a top priority,” said Alex Sienaert, Senior Economist and Task Team Leader, World Bank Kenya. “This policy operation supports measures to reduce the budget deficit over time, such as by making public spending more efficient, whilst minimizing debt costs by helping to meet the government’s current financing requirements on concessional terms.”
DPOs are used by the World Bank to support a country’s policy and institutional reform agenda to help to accelerate inclusive growth and poverty reduction. The negative impacts of the COVID-19 crisis have made reforms that improve governance and service delivery, including those covered by this operation for Kenya, even more critical because they create better conditions for Kenya to inclusively and sustainably recover from it. Financing provided by the World Bank is offered on concessional terms, making it significantly lower than commercial loans. The total annual interest and service cost of the Kenya DPO is 3.1%.
* The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 76 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.6 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, IDA has supported development work in 113 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $21 billion over the last three years, with about 61 percent going to Africa.
World Bank Supports Croatia’s Firms Hit by COVID-19 Pandemic
Tamara Perko, President of the Management Board of the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development (HBOR) and Elisabetta Capannelli, World Bank Country Manager for Croatia, signed a Loan Agreement for the HEAL Croatia Project (Helping Enterprises Access Liquidity) in the amount of EUR 200 million (US$242 million equivalent). The Croatian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Zdravko Marić also signed a Guarantee Agreement with the Bank for the Loan. The HEAL Croatia Project will provide liquidity and financial restructuring to firms that have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and by the two devastating earthquakes of 2020 and will support an inclusive and resilient recovery.
The COVID-19 crisis has caused a sharp decline in the economic activity of Croatian businesses and has had a profound effect on jobs and livelihoods. The pandemic disrupted firms’ production and reduced the demand for their goods and services, while the financial sector tightened lending to companies, due to rising credit risk. The crisis also exacerbated Croatia’s regional disparities and reduced credit access for young firms and for firms owned and managed by women.
To mitigate such negative effects, the HEAL Project will increase access to finance to firms focused on export, both small and medium enterprises (firms employing fewer than 250 people) and mid-caps firms (employing from 250 to 3000 people), as well as for firms from less developed regions of Croatia, and firms owned or managed by women. It will also increase access for young enterprises (operating less than five years). The Project will support HBOR’s continued development through improved business processes, strengthened sustainability and climate change resilience, and use of EU funds.
“The loan being signed today represents a continuation of the significant support provided by the World Bank to the Republic of Croatia since the beginning of the crisis in 2020, which is reflected in operations worth a total of EUR 760 million (including HEAL). With this project, we are contributing to the further recovery of Croatia’s private sector, following the existing measures of the Government of the Republic of Croatia adopted in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, post-earthquake reconstruction and creating foundations for future sustainability and resilience,” said Zdravko Marić, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the Republic of Croatia.
“Terms and conditions granted by the World Bank will provide us an additional source of finance for granting further favorable loans to our entrepreneurs. We are pleased that the World Bank has recognized the significance of financing entrepreneur groups whose importance has also been recognized in HBOR’s five-year strategy. Exporters and entrepreneurs in underdeveloped areas are among them. In addition to granting favorable financing terms, the World Bank will support us in improving our Environmental and Social Management System. This will be important as HBOR’s activities in the coming period will be particularly committed to building more capacity for supporting sustainable projects and inclusive growth,” stated Tamara Perko, President of the Management Board of HBOR.
“We look forward to a smooth and quick implementation of the HEAL Croatia project which will help preserve jobs and support household livelihoods through direct support to approximately 150 firms employing around 25,000 people. The Project will contribute to a resilient, inclusive and sustainable recovery of Croatia, which has been hard hit by the global pandemic, the economic recession, and the devastating earthquakes of March and December 2020,” said Elisabetta Capannelli, the World Bank Country Manager for Croatia.
The HEAL Croatia project complements two other World Bank crisis operations approved last year, the Croatia Crisis Response and Recovery Program and Earthquake Recovery and Public Health Preparedness Project – worth together US$ 500 million, to help mitigate the effects of the economic shock, advance recovery, facilitate earthquake reconstruction and strengthen national systems for public health preparedness for pandemic outbreaks. The Justice for Business Project focused on improving the business regulatory procedures and justice service standards for businesses and citizens was also approved in March 2020, bringing the World Bank support to the country to EUR 760 million under the ongoing Country Partnership Framework.
The World Bank has been a partner to Croatia for over 27 years. During this period, the Bank has supported more than 50 projects, worth almost US$5 billion, produced numerous studies, and provided technical assistance to help strengthen institutions and support the design of policies and strategies. The Bank’s current program focuses on mitigating the economic and social impact of COVID-19, post-earthquake reconstruction, transport, justice, innovation, business environment, land administration, science and technology, and economic development of the Pannonian region.
New Financing to Help Indonesia Achieve a Deeper and More Resilient Financial Sector
The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a loan of US$400 million to support reforms that will help the Government of Indonesia increase the depth, improve the efficiency, and strengthen the resilience of the financial sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused recession in Indonesia, with potentially long-lasting financial, fiscal, and social implications. While the banking system is well-capitalized and profitability is high, the lack of depth in the Indonesian financial markets increases the country’s vulnerability to external shocks. The new financing is designed to help the country address financial sector vulnerabilities heightened by the pandemic. It does so through support to measures such as extending financial services to previously underserved groups, reducing the costs of such services for individuals and businesses alike, and strengthening the capacity of the financial sector to withstand financial and non-financial shocks.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has made structural reforms to address financial sector vulnerabilities urgent. The Government of Indonesia is committed to strengthening the financial sector given its critical role in sustaining Indonesia’s growth and in reducing poverty, especially during the COVID-19 recovery phase. “ said Minister of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia, Sri Mulyani Indrawati.
The new development policy loan will support Indonesia’s financial sector reforms through three key approaches. First, it aims to increase the depth of the financial sector by expanding the access to financial services – including by youth and women – broadening the range of financial products, and incentivizing long-term savings. These efforts would reduce Indonesia’s vulnerability to foreign portfolio outflows.
Second, it aims to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of the financial sector by strengthening the insolvency and creditor rights framework, protect consumers and personal data, and make payment systems more efficient and faster by utilizing digital technology. The latter will help large-scale social assistance payments to vulnerable people during the crisis.
Third, it aims to boost the capacity of the financial sector to withstand shocks by strengthening the resolution framework to avoid financial activities disruptions in the event of a bank failure, advancing the effectiveness of financial sector oversight and implementing sustainable finance practices.
“This financing complements the government’s efforts to cushion the financial sector and the overall economy from the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. By making financial services more transparent, reliable and technology-oriented, savings can be channeled into the most productive investments in a less costly, faster and safer way, thus opening opportunities for people to invest in their future and to protect themselves from unexpected shocks,” said Satu Kahkonen, World Bank Country Director for Indonesia and Timor-Leste.
The World Bank’s support to financial sector reforms in Indonesia is an important component of the World Bank Group’s Country Partnership Framework for Indonesia, whose engagement area on strengthening economic resilience and competitiveness contains a specific objective focused on increasing the depth, improving the efficiency and strengthening the resilience of the financial sector. The new financing is also based on the World Bank Group’s GRID (green, resilient, inclusive development) principles.
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