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Why Post-Coronavirus America Will Have Massive Poverty

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The way that Congress and the President structured America’s coronavirus bailout legislation, the protections that go to the super-wealthy start immediately, but the protections that go to the neediest — the soaring numbers of unemployed, the increasingly endangered medical workers, etc. — require documentation which is creating delays that might soon cause many of these individuals to lose their homes, their cars, even their lives.

On April 17th, Matt Taibbi headlined “The Trickle-Up Bailout” and he noted that:

As we head into the second month of pandemic lockdown, two parallel narratives are developing about the financial rescue. 

In one, ordinary people receive aid through programs that are piecemeal, complex, and riddled with conditions.

A law freezing evictions applies to holders of government-backed mortgages only. “Disaster grants” are coming more slowly and in smaller amounts than expected; small businesses were disappointed to learn from the SBA early last week that aid would be limited to $1000 per employee.

That’s typical.

As I had already explained on April 14th:

America’s bailout package to overcome the coronavirus ‘recession’ is twofold:

One part is printing money for employees and consumers, so that they won’t be thrown out onto the streets for non-payment of debts such as mortgages, car-loans, credit cards, and student loans.

Another part is printing money for bondholders and stockholders, so that their investments will still have value and there won’t be panicked selling of them as corporations accumulate soaring losses because consumers are staying home and are cutting way back on expenses.

The top-down part of the bailout (the part for investors) will merely add to the wealth of the already-wealthy, while everybody else sinks financially into oblivion. (On April 9th, the Zero Hedge financial site explained in detail why even bailing out the airlines would hurt the economy more than help the economy.) The top-down part supplies the money to the corporations instead of to their employees and consumers, and is therefore supply-boosting instead of demand-boosting. Supplying money to the corporations that the Government selects to protect will enable those corporations to buy up assets and corporations which during the crisis are being auctioned off by the ones that go out of business, and this will leave the nation’s wealth in even fewer hands than before the epidemic struck.  

The bottom-up part (the part for workers and consumers) will be exactly the opposite of that: it will help prevent another Great Depression. By boosting purchases, instead of bailing-out billionaires and such, it will enable the economy to keep functioning, and it will not increase the concentration of wealth.

However, employees and consumers don’t have many lobbyists, but billionaires do, and billionaires also own (through political donations and lobbyists) almost all members of Congress (and also the mainstream press), and they not only own, but are represented by, one inside the White House, who is surrounded there by others, and by representatives of others, so that the concerns of the wealthiest will be very well represented by America’s Government, and will end up dominating the bailouts, so that only the insiders, who are well-connected in Washington, will be protected. (And Joe Biden would be no improvement over Donald Trump, though his rhetoric is different.)

Already, we see, in the ‘news’-reports, that there is ‘chaos’ etc. in the U.S. Government’s response to the crisis, but what’s not being reported in the mainstream ‘news’-media is that there very much is method to this seeming madness, and it is the method of the well-practiced and well-funded takers, definitely not of their victims, from whom they (and their Government) have been, and now increasingly are, taking. The takers own the Deep State, and are protected by it. The vast bulk of the bailouts will go to them. The vast bulk of the bailouts will go to suppliers (investors), not to their workers and consumers.

So, as a general rule: the more that a person’s income depends upon investments, and the less that it depends upon their labor (wages), the more fully that the bailouts will compensate for the losses they’ll be suffering as a result of the coronavirus disruptions.

Here is a breakdown of the incomes that the super-rich receive (mainly from investments), versus the incomes that everybody else receive:

As can easily be seen there, only the super-rich (the top 1%, and most especially the top 0.1%) receive the majority of their incomes from investments (“Business income” and “Capital income”). Everybody else receives it mainly from “compensation” (wages), “retirement income,” and “Transfer income” (welfare).

Most of the benefits to the top 0.1% will be coming by means of monetary policy, via the Federal Reserve, not by means of fiscal policy — such as the payments to the unemployed (which are subject to many delays) and such as the $1,200-per-adult grants (which were the fastest to be paid because it’s the “helicopter money” that buys votes for the political incumbents, all of whom had voted for the bailouts).

The bailouts’ widely publicized part is the $2.2 trillion, since that includes whatever the public gets. However, that part is the smaller portion of the entire program. As CBS News reported on March 24th, “Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the price tag of economic stimulus amounts to roughly $6 trillion, which includes $2 trillion for direct assistance, and roughly $4 trillion in Federal Reserve lending power. Kudlow said this will be the single-largest such Main Street financial package in the history of the country.” Kudlow said it at a White House press conference. He mentioned there just in passing (at 1:36), that it’s a “six trillion-dollar program, four trillion dollars in lending power from the Fed, that’s a six trillion-dollar package …,” and the reporters in the White House press corps didn’t ask him anything about the Fed’s part, the $4 trillion portion (the program’s part that protects the billionaires); they evidently didn’t care about that, but only about the $2.2 trillion, which is actually the PR decoration on this $6T cake — the $2.2T that the public is interested in, the bait-part of the entire bailout-program. (Its hook won’t sink in until the readers’ children and grandchildren will be paying for it via their taxes in a stripped America.) However, on March 26th, Wall Street on Parade (WSP) — the best investigative-reporting source about Wall Street — headlined “Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts” and disclosed that even what Kudlow had called “Main Street” (the $2.2T part) included much for Wall Street; and WSP then rhetorically asked, “Why does the Federal Reserve need $454 billion from the U.S. taxpayer to bail out Wall Street when it has the power to create money out of thin air and has already dumped more than $9 trillion cumulatively in revolving loans to prop up Wall Street’s trading houses since September 17, 2019 – long before there was any diagnosis of coronavirus anywhere in the world?” They promptly answered this: “The Fed needs that money to create more Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) — the same device used by Enron to hide its toxic debt off its balance sheet before it went belly up.” Furthermore, the $454 billion, which WSP called “the money the Treasury is handing over to the Fed” is what CBS had reported “would result in ‘$4 trillion in Federal Reserve lending power’.” And U.S. taxpayers are guaranteeing 100% of these loans to investors — so, it’s “heads you win, tails we lose,” for taxpayers addressing billionaires, and “heads we win, tails you lose,” for billionaires addressing taxpayers. The billionaires win, the public loses. But the billionaires’ media don’t mention this fact, that investors get the guarantees, while the public takes all of the risks. However, what is an “investment” for, if non-investors are receiving its risks? It’s just legalized crime. And these are huge risks, and all or most of the $454 billion that the U.S. is lending to the Fed to guarantee private investors’ investments could be destroyed in the coronavirus-crisis. This is far more socialism for the super-rich than for the bottom 99%. The billionaires love socialism when they’re the ones who are getting the bailouts — the public taking on the risks that investors are supposed to assume. The issue for billionaires isn’t “socialism versus capitalism,” like they always say; it’s actually “socialism for us, and capitalism for everybody else.” That’s not “survival of the fittest,” for the wealthiest class; it’s instead their ordering their politicians to: protect our wealth, no matter what the cost to the public could turn out to be. And that’s precisely what the President and Congress did. Kudlow, however, said, instead, that the “package” would produce “a good rebound in the second half of the year.” Maybe for the billionaires it would.

Kudlow was simply being consistent with his own prior record. On 10 December 2007, he had headlined in National Review“Bush Boom Continues: You can call it Goldilocks 2.0. But you can’t call it a recession.” And he closed by saying, “This sort of fiscal and monetary coordination will continue the Bush boom for years to come.” He’s good for the billionaires; and, so, today, he’s President Trump’s top economic advisor. He’s up there, because he’s wrong — not because he’s right. (If he had been right, he wouldn’t be there.) 

On April 21st, CNBC headlined “Here are the largest public companies taking payroll loans meant for small businesses” and the top 10 on the list totals $56.5 million going to 10 corporations whose collective market capitalization is $2.367 billion. The smallest of those ten bailouts is $10.0M going to the stockholders of a $151 million corporation. The largest of those ten bailouts is to a corporation whose top 3 investors are: Brown CapitalBlackRock, and Vanguard. On April 20th, Forbes reported that, “the U.S. central bank has hired private equity giant BlackRock BLK, which manages some $7 trillion in assets, to run purchases of corporate bonds and commercial mortgages that are part of its response to the pandemic-led recession.” So: the owners of BlackRock will now receive, from “the U.S. central bank” (the Federal Reserve), some of the bailouts from the U.S. Small Business Administration, in this “emergency” program.

Also on April 21st, David Sirota’s blog bannered “Dems Give Unanimous Consent To Trump”, and described the just-passed second coronavirus bailout legislation, which totals $484 billion: It “doesn’t include any resources for first responders, budget-strapped states or food stamps. It doesn’t include any new oversight of the first bailout bill. It includes nothing to help states move to a vote-by-mail system in the event that coronavirus complicates in-person voting during the general election. It basically doesn’t include any alleged Democratic Party priority at all.” But the legislation passed Congress with “unanimous consent,” in this ‘compromise’ with the Republicans (who oppose any government-benefits that might go to the poor).

After the immediate crisis is over, America will have a top 0.1% who are unscathed and whose mega-corporations will be selling not only what they had been selling before, but selling virtually everything that sells in the post-coronavirus world. For examples: what mom-and-pop businesses (including restaurants, B&Bs, etc.) had previously been selling, will, in the future, be supplied (to the extent that it remains being supplied at all) by McDonalds, Starbucks, Marriott, Amazon, Target, Walmart, and other megacorporations (controlled by billionaires), which will have been receiving, from the Fed, and from the Treasury, whatever they needed in order to carry their investors through the crisis-period. (And who are those investors? Look at that chart above, the recipients mainly of “Business income” and “Capital income” — the chief recipients of dividends, interest, and capital gains incomes.)

Furthermore: after the crisis, commercial real estate will be super-cheap, because of all the bankrupted mom-and-pop businesses. Wages also will decline, as the public become increasingly desperate, and the billionaires win increasing market-power. Therefore, not only will the megacorporations be selling a larger percentage of the national output, but their expenses will go down.  

Consequently: America will have lots more poor people, and lots wealthier billionaires.

This, however, will be only a temporary situation, because the enormous spread of poverty will result in greatly decreased taxes coming into all levels of the U.S. Government. Bridges will collapse, potholes will proliferate, unendowed colleges will close, nervous breakdowns and heart-attacks will increase, and thus the public won’t be able to spend as much as they were spending before the crisis hit. And, so, although the megacorporations will be selling a larger percentage of national output, that national output will decline, because of the spreading poverty. Therefore, even the billionaires won’t necessarily become richer than they were before the crisis hit.

All of this outcome is unnecessary and results from corruption. The only reason why there is any bailout, at all, for investors (in anything other than pass-through entities), is the pervasive governmental corruption at the very top. If there were no corruption, then the only bailouts would be to individuals and pass-through businesses (which are individuals) — the “bottom-up” bailouts. America is a very corrupt country at the top, and that is the reason why it will collapse in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis.

Ultimately, when the wealth-inequality is so extreme, the billionaires are selling mainly to each other, and the necessities for the public are less and less profitable to sell at all. The outcome will therefore be economic collapse, and perhaps even revolution.

The basic way to evaluate how well or poorly a nation’s Government is performing in this crisis is the country’s ratio of coronavirus cases to its total population, but if a given country has not yet reached its peak in its daily number of new cases, then that country’s ratio is probably still rising, in which instance, that country’s performance will probably turn out to have been less good than this ratio currently is showing it to be. And, conversely, the lower this ratio is, the better the performance of that country’s Government is shown to be in responding to Covid-19.   

Here are the ten nations that have the largest numbers of cases at the present time, and the ratio of that number to their total population; and also shown here is the date when the daily number of new cases peaked (because if it hasn’t yet peaked, then this crucial ratio will probably be rising in that country):

Ratio of total cases to total population, per million (the lower this number, the better):

USA 2,472 maybe not yet peaked

SPAIN 4,367 peaked March 26th

ITALY 3,043 peaked March 19th

FRANCE 2,421 peaked April 3rd

GERMANY 1,772 peaked March 27th

UK 1,901 peaked April 10th

TURKEY 1,133 peaked April 11th

IRAN 1,010 peaked February 12th

CHINA 57 peaked March 30th

RUSSIA 362 maybe not yet peaked

In addition, the following major countries might especially be noted, since the main reason they aren’t on that list is their being outstandingly good performers:

JAPAN 88 peaked April 11th

S. KOREA 208 peaked March 3rd

The worst of all these performers appear currently to be, though not yet in any clear order: USA, Spain, and Italy.

The best appear to be, in order: China, Japan, and S. Korea. 

Regardless of a country’s size, here are the absolute worst performers, and their respective known infection-rates per million: San Marino (14,028), Andorra (9,280), Iceland (5,210), Gibraltar (3,918), Faroe Islands (3,786), Isle of Man (3,610), Belgium (3,534), Ireland (3,248), Switzerland (3,243).

The U.S. press has recently been particularly praising Denmark’s performance, and noting that Denmark’s coronavirus emergency legislation is more socialistic than Sweden’s is. However, both of those Scandinavian countries actually have very similar actual performance, thus far, in this crisis. In Denmark, the focus of the emergency legislation was on “saving jobs,” instead of on protecting investors. It’s a democratic socialist country, perhaps the most equalitarian in the world. Of course, that’s the exact opposite of dictatorial capitalism (fascism), which became America’s system after FDR died in 1945, and increasingly thereafter (hyper-imperialistic, military-industrial-complex or “MIC” dominated, like fascist regimes usually are), perpetrating coups and invasions, destroying Iran, Iraq, and many other countries, in order to expand its power and the wealth of its billionaires (like the fascist countries had done going into WW II). No cases of coronavirus-19 were reported in Denmark until February 27th. Denmark unanimously passed its emergency law on March 13th — drastically different bailout legislation from the one that America subsequently passed — in order to deal with the crisis. The daily number of Denmark’s new Covid-19 cases peaked on April 7th, and has been declining since that time. Its neighbor Sweden peaked on April 8th. Sweden’s emergency legislation is less strict about lockdowns, but relies more on individual discretion. However, since Sweden, like Denmark, is a democratic socialist country, individuals needn’t worry about paying medical bills, nor about being paid while on sick-leave. So, employees aren’t desperate to return to their places of work, such as in America; and, therefore, these countries don’t spread the infection as readily as in the U.S. and are thus far less likely to have recurring peaks and delayed terminations of the coronavirus crisis. (By contrast: in America, where losing one’s job can mean losing one’s health care, even sick employees may be inclined to stay on the job and perhaps infect customers.) And there are no corporate bailouts in either Denmark’s or Sweden’s legislation. Denmark’s Finance Minister, the Social Democrat (or democratic socialist) Nicolai Wammen was interviewed for 15 minutes on March 27th, by Christiane Amanpour, and he explained Denmark’s emergency law, which was overwhelmingly bottom-up, not top-down (such as America’s is).

Here, therefore, is the actual performance, thus far, of both of those two countries:

DENMARK 1,329 peaked April 7th

SWEDEN 1,517 peaked April 8th

Both of them are reasonably comparable to Germany, UK, Turkey, and Iran, but not as good as S. Korea, and not nearly as good as the two best, China and Japan.

In the final analysis, China and Japan could turn out to have the least-corrupt and best-run Governments; and the most corrupt Governments could turn out to be USA, Spain, and Italy. However, the performances of Brazil and some other nations in the southern hemisphere might yet turn out to be even worse than those of USA, Spain, and Italy, because the winter season has’t yet reached there.

Another important way of measuring a nation’s coronavirus performance is tests per million population. Among the nations with the largest numbers of cases, Italy and Germany are excellent on this, having above 20,000 persons tested per million population; and China is the worst (because it doesn’t even say how many were tested). Consequently: China’s outstanding performance (as measured by low number of reported cases) might actually be fraudulent. Japan’s outstandingly low number of reported cases might also be fraudulent, because their test-number per million is only 923. America’s test-rate is in the mid-range: 12,651. Denmark’s is 17,358. Sweden’s is 9,357.

What cannot be reasonably doubted is that America’s Governmental response to the coronavirus-19 pandemic is catastrophically corrupt. On April 16th, Wall Street on Parade headlined “Here Are the Contracts Showing How $4.5 Trillion in Stimulus Was Outsourced to Wall Street” and described — and documented — what the Wall Street Journal and the rest of the financial press would not, which is the U.S. Government’s legalized money-laundering operation, via the Fed, transferring onto the American public almost all of the losses that America’s billionaires will be suffering from the coronavirus crash. Back on 21 January 2020, WSP described this money-laundering, in its earlier 2008 embodiment, this way: “The epic financial collapse on Wall Street in 2008 was, reduced to its basic terms, simply the end game of Wall Street banks’ efforts to monetize their frauds.” They noted: “On April 9, 2019, the nonprofit Wall Street watchdog, Better Markets, released a study titled: “Wall Street’s Six Biggest Bailed-Out Banks: Their RAP Sheets & Their Ongoing Crime Spree.” It should have made headlines on the front pages of every major newspaper in the U.S. Instead, it was effectively ignored by mainstream media.” (Incidentally: Obama repeatedly promised to prosecute banksters, but secretly protected them and prosecuted none of them, though their crimes had been monstrous. The billionaires’ thefts from the public are entirely bipartisan, supported by over 95% of Congress — the billionaires own the Presidents and members of Congress, and not only own virtually all of the news-media.) On April 20th, America’s National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast “Amid Pandemic, Italian Prosecutors Warn That Mafia Groups Are Cementing Their Power” and reported that Mafia bosses were buying up cheap some of Italy’s suddenly desperate small businesses. If the same thing is being done by America’s billionaires, that’s not yet being reported by their press — perhaps it will instead be reported by Italy’s press.

The Federal Reserve are controlled by and represent the banksters — Wall Street — who not only skim on their own accounts but work with and for the billionaires, some of whom are themselves banksters, but many of whom are operating hedge funds, private equity funds, and all types of FORTUNE 500 companies. Basically, Wall Street works for the billionaires. The billionaires run practically everything in America, except Main Street.

In the upcoming June 2020 issue of the neoconservative (pro-U.S.-imperialist) Democratic Party U.S. magazine, The Atlantic, their George Packer banners “We Are Living in a Failed State: The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken.” That magazine blames this “failed state” on the (neoconservative) Republican Party, and so Packer’s phrase there “a dysfunctional government” links to an anti-Republican article, by one of the top officials in the liberal neoconservative U.S. Administration of the Democrat Barack Obama, titled “How Trump Designed His White House to Fail.” However, the actual cause of the gradual collapse, since 1945, of what had been U.S. President FDR’s largely democratic U.S.A., is the billionaires who own both Parties — it is bipartisan. This rot comes from both Parties’ billionaires. (The particular propaganda-operation, The Atlantic, happens to be controlled by the same Democratic Party billionaire who controls Apple corporation.) No billionaire will publish the reality. For example, Packer’s article said: “The second crisis, in 2008, intensified it [‘a bitterness toward the political class’]. At the top, the financial crash could almost be considered a success. Congress passed a bipartisan bailout bill that saved the financial system.” The presumption there is that the only way to restore the economy after a crash is to bail out the country’s billionaires. It’s a timely propaganda-message, at this moment when the billionaires require their Government to bail them out, yet again. (I recently proposed one way to reduce the billionaires’ dictatorship over America.)

On April 17th, WSP headlined “Americans Are Paying a Tragic Price for Allowing Five Banks to Control the U.S. Economy” and closed by urging: “Americans need to use this time at home to call their Senators and Reps in Congress and demand the separation of federally-insured, deposit-taking banks from the casinos on Wall Street. We’re talking about nothing less than the survival of this country.” Needless to say, the ultimate beneficiaries of this public largesse — to America’s billionaires — don’t desire to publicize such writings, any more than they desire to expose to the public their offshore bank accounts. 

Unlike so much that’s in the billionaires’ ‘news’, the facts that are reported here are solidly documented (and linked-to), but the billionaires don’t report these facts. Thus, the masses don’t know these facts, and so the mass-violence, when it comes, won’t be focused against the billionaires. What you’re reading, here, is being kept secret by (not being published by) the billionaires’ media. So — if only in order to spread word that the cause of this is not “the Chinese” or “foreigners” or “the Jews” or some other amorphous ethnicity (who aren’t actually to blame) — please email the URL (the web-address) atop this article, to all of your friends, as “FYI:”. It might stir some interesting conversations, especially if all the ‘news’ that they know comes from America’s billionaires — the same people who fund the country’s successful politicians, each and every election-year. The American Revolution did not come about by misinformed people. It came about by informed people. Misinformed people create only more problems.

So, that’s “FYI.” And thanks for reading here.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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The Covid After-Effects and the Looming Skills Shortage

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coronavirus people

The shock of the pandemic is changing the ways in which we think about the world and in which we analyze the future trajectories of development. The persistence of the Covid pandemic will likely accentuate this transformation and the prominence of the “green agenda” this year is just one of the facets of these changes. Market research as well as the numerous think-tanks will be accordingly re-calibrating the time horizons and the main themes of analysis. Greater attention to longer risks and fragilities is likely to take on greater prominence, with particular scrutiny being accorded to high-impact risk factors that have a non-negligible probability of materializing in the medium- to long-term. Apart from the risks of global warming other key risk factors involve the rising labour shortages, most notably in areas pertaining to human capital development.

The impact of the Covid pandemic on the labour market will have long-term implications, with “hysteresis effects” observed in both highly skilled and low-income tiers of the labour market. One of the most significant factors affecting the global labour market was the reduction in migration flows, which resulted in the exacerbation of labour shortages across the major migrant recipient countries, such as Russia. There was also a notable blow delivered by the pandemic to the spheres of human capital development such as education and healthcare, which in turn exacerbated the imbalances and shortages in these areas. In particular, according to the estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) shortages can mount up to 9.9 million physicians, nurses and midwives globally by 2030.

In Europe, although the number of physicians and nurses has increased in general in the region by approximately 10% over the past 10 years, this increase appears to be insufficient to cover the needs of ageing populations. At the same time the WHO points to sizeable inequalities in the availability of physicians and nurses between countries, whereby there are 5 times more doctors in some countries than in others. The situation with regard to nurses is even more acute, as data show that some countries have 9 times fewer nurses than others.

In the US substantial labour shortages in the healthcare sector are also expected, with anti-crisis measures falling short of substantially reversing the ailments in the national healthcare system. In particular, data published by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), suggests that the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.

The blows sustained by global education from the pandemic were no less formidable. These affected first and foremost the youngest generation of the globe – according to UNESCO, “more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic”. On top of the adverse effects on the younger generation (see Box 1), there is also the widening “teachers gap”, namely a worldwide shortage of well-trained teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “69 million teachers must be recruited to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030”.

From our partner RIAC

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Accelerating COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake to Boost Malawi’s Economic Recovery

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Lunzu market in southern Malawi. WFP/Greg Barrow

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries including Malawi have struggled to mitigate its impact amid limited fiscal support and fragile health systems. The pandemic has plunged the continent into its first recession in over 25 years, and vulnerable groups such as the poor, informal sector workers, women, and youth, suffer disproportionately from reduced opportunities and unequal access to social safety nets.

Fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccine acquisition—alongside widespread testing, improved treatment, and strong health systems—are critical to protecting lives and stimulating economic recovery. In support of the African Union’s (AU) target to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population by 2022, the World Bank and the AU announced a partnership to assist the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative with resources, allowing countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million Africans. This extraordinary effort complements COVAX and comes at a time of rising cases in the region.

I am convinced that unless every country in the world has fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, we will not stem the spread of the pandemic and set the global economy on track for a steady and inclusive recovery. The World Bank has taken unprecedented steps to ramp up financing for Malawi, and every country in Africa, to empower them with the resources to implement successful vaccination campaigns and compensate for income losses, food price increases, and service delivery disruptions.

In line with Malawi’s COVID-19 National Response and Preparedness Plan which aims to vaccinate 60 percent of the population, the World Bank approved $30 million in additional financing for the acquisition and deployment of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. This financing comes as a boost to Malawi’s COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness project, bringing World Bank contributions in this sector up to $37 million.

Malawi’s decision to purchase 1.8 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines through the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) with World Bank financing is a welcome development and will enable Malawi to secure additional vaccines to meet its vaccination target.

However, Malawi’s vaccination campaign has encountered challenges driven by concerns regarding safety, efficacy, religious and cultural beliefs. These concerns, combined with abundant misinformation, are fueling widespread vaccine hesitancy despite the pandemic’s impact on the health and welfare of billions of people.  The low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is of great concern, and it remains an uphill battle to reach the target of 60 percent by the end of 2023 from the current 2.2 percent.

Government leadership remains fundamental as the country continues to address vaccine hesitancy by consistently communicating the benefits of the vaccine, releasing COVID data, and engaging communities to help them understand how this impacts them.

As we deploy targeted resources to address COVID-19, we are also working to ensure that these investments support a robust, sustainable and resilient recovery. Our support emphasizes transparency, social protection, poverty alleviation, and policy-based financing to make sure that COVID assistance gets to the people who have been hit the hardest.

For example, the Financial Inclusion and Entrepreneurship Scaling Project (FInES) in Malawi is supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises by providing them with $47 million in affordable credit through commercial banks and microfinance institutions. Eight months into implementation, approximately $8.4 million (MK6.9 billion) has been made available through three commercial banks on better terms and interest rates. Additionally, nearly 200,000 urban households have received cash transfers and urban poor now have more affordable access to water to promote COVID-19 prevention.

Furthermore, domestic mobilization of resources for the COVID-19 response are vital to ensuring the security of supply of health sector commodities needed to administer vaccinations and sustain ongoing measures. Likewise, regional approaches fostering cross-border collaboration are just as imperative as in-country efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. United Nations (UN) partners in Malawi have been instrumental in convening regional stakeholders and supporting vaccine deployment.

Taking broad, fast action to help countries like Malawi during this unprecedented crisis will save lives and prevent more people falling into poverty. We thank Malawi for their decisive action and will continue to support the country and its people to build a resilient and inclusive recovery.

This op-ed first appeared in The Nation, via World Bank

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An Airplane Dilemma: Convenience Versus Environment

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Mr. President:  There are many consequences of COVID-19 that have changed the existing landscape due to the cumulative effects of personal behavior.  For example, the decline in the use of automobiles has been to the benefit of the environment.  A landmark study published by Nature in May 2020 confirmed a 17 percent drop in daily CO2 emissions but with the expectation that the number will bounce back as human activity returns to normal.

Yet there is hope.  We are all creatures of habit and having tried teleconferences, we are less likely to take the trouble to hop on a plane for a personal meeting, wasting time and effort.  Such is also the belief of aircraft operators.  Add to this the convenience of shopping from home and having the stuff delivered to your door and one can guess what is happening.

In short, the need for passenger planes has diminished while cargo operators face increased demand.  Fewer passenger planes also means a reduction in belly cargo capacity worsening the situation.  All of which has led to a new business with new jobs — converting passenger aircraft for cargo use.  It is not as simple as it might seem, and not just a matter of removing seats, for all unnecessary items must be removed for cargo use. They take up cargo weight and if not removed waste fuel.

After the seats and interior fittings have been removed, the cabin floor has to be strengthened.  The side windows are plugged and smoothed out.  A cargo door is cut out and the existing emergency doors are deactivated and sealed.  Also a new crew entry door has to be cut-out and installed. 

A new in-cabin cargo barrier with a sliding access door is put in, allowing best use of cargo and cockpit space and a merged carrier and crew space.  A new crew lavatory together with replacement water and waste systems replace the old, which supplied the original passenger area and are no longer needed.

The cockpit gets upgrades which include a simplified air distribution system and revised hydraulics.  At the end of it all, we have a cargo jet.  If the airlines are converting their planes, then they must believe not all the travelers will be returning after the covid crisis recedes.

Airline losses have been extraordinary.  Figures sourced from the World Bank and the International Civil Aviation Organization reveal air carriers lost $370 billion in revenues.  This includes $120 billion in the Asia-Pacific region, $100 billion in Europe and $88 billion in North America.

For many of the airlines, it is now a new business model transforming its fleet for cargo demand and launching new cargo routes.  The latter also requires obtaining regulatory approvals.

A promising development for the future is sustainable aviation fuel (SAP).  Developed by the Air France KLM Martinair consortium it reduces CO2 emissions, and cleaner air transport contributes to lessening global warming.

It is a good start since airplanes are major transportation culprits increasing air pollution and radiative forcing.  The latter being the heat reflected back to earth when it is greater than the heat radiated from the earth.  All of which should incline the environmentally conscious to avoid airplane travel — buses and trains pollute less and might be a preferred alternative for domestic travel.

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