Workers and COVID-19: Access to healthcare, now ‘a matter of life and death’
The spread of COVID-19 in developing countries has exposed gaps in social protection coverage which could compromise recovery plans, expose millions of people to poverty and affect global readiness to cope with similar crises, according to two policy briefs issued Thursday by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The report on Social protection responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in developing countries, describes social protection as “an indispensable mechanism for delivering support to individuals during the crisis”. It looks at response measures introduced in some countries, such as the removal of financial barriers to quality health care, and protecting incomes and jobs, among other interventions.
The ability to access affordable, quality, healthcare has become “a matter of life and death”, the UN labour agency brief says.
Coronavirus, one deadly threat among others
It cautions policy makers against a singular focus on COVID-19, which could reduce the ability of health systems to respond to other conditions that kill people daily. According to its data, 55 per cent of the world’s population – 4 billion people – lack social insurance or social assistance. Only 20 per cent of unemployed people are covered by unemployment benefits.
The second brief – Sickness benefits during sick leave and quarantine: Country responses and policy considerations in the context of COVID-19 – warns that gaps in sickness benefit coverage, results in anxious workers being forced to go to work when they are ill, or should self-quarantine, increasing the risk of infecting others. The related income loss increases the risk of poverty for workers and their families.
It calls for urgent, short-term measures to close the coverage gaps – which, in turn, would bring about support for public health, poverty prevention and promotion of the human rights to health and social security.
Extend sickness benefits to all
It proposes extending sickness benefit coverage to everyone, as well as increasing benefit levels to ensure they provide income security, speeding benefit delivery and expanding the scope of benefits to include prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
“The COVID-19 crisis is a wake-up call”, said Shahra Razavi, Director of the ILO Social Protection Department. It has shown that a lack of social protection not only affects the poor but also exposes the vulnerability of those who have been “getting by relatively well,” she said, as medical charges and income loss, can easily destroy decades of family savings.
Putting robust social protection systems in place can be a huge challenge, says ILO development economist Jayati Ghosh.
Vicious circle of loss
While the need for social protection has never been more evident, these large demands on public fiscal resources come just as most developing countries are facing rapid declines in export and tourism revenues, and capital outflows.
While most developed countries are instituting large fiscal stimulus packages, this is much more difficult for developing countries. Their estimated financing needs are around $2.5 trillion, she says, while the immediately required increase in health spending, is projected to reach between $160 billion and $500 billion.
IMF reserves, debt forgiveness
One way to achieve this goal is through a large new issue of Special Drawing Rights by the International Monetary Fund – reserve assets created to supplement countries’ official foreign exchange reserves.
She also says a halt to all debt repayments (both principal and interest) would be required for one year or until debt restructuring packages are worked out. This is essential because as much as $1.6 trillion of developing country external debt is due to be repaid in 2020, with a further $1.1 trillion due in 2021.
TIME: Will China create a better world?
China is everywhere in global politics. China is “ubiquitous,” a retired Senior Colonel Zhou Bo of China’s PLA told in a conversation with TIME magazine. On March 10, in an agreement brokered by Beijing, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to normalize relations, after seven years of bitter rivalry in a deal that sidelined the U.S. Earlier, on February 24, China put forward a 12-point proposal for peace in Ukraine. On March 20, President Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow, where he discussed the situation in Ukraine with Vladimir Putin.
Senior Colonel Zhou Bo spoke about what the “watershed moment” means for China and the world. He said:
– For Beijing, the war in Ukraine is a trigger for new security arrangements in Europe that will have to be made before peace returns. China’s proposal on peace in Ukraine is a big step forward. The success on mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia will encourage China to make more proposals, but the challenge is always to find road maps. With reform and opening up, as Deng Xiaoping said, China was trying to get across the river by feeling the stones on the riverbed, but now China is entering the ocean.
– We are talking about Global China. When Boris Johnson talked about Global Britain, it was probably more rhetorical. But Global China is definitely real. China is ubiquitous. China’s influence is everywhere. The PLA’s operations overseas are carefully chosen to be humanitarian in nature, but as your strength grows, people have higher expectations for you. We are talking about the world. This is the ocean we are wading in.
– China does have some sympathy with Russia on how this war came about because of NATO expansion, despite NATO’s promises on no expansion from time to time. China understands why Russia is resentful. When China stresses sovereignty must be respected, it also tries to look at it from a more comprehensive perspective. Countries like South Africa, Brazil, or India are taking similar positions like China on this.
– There is no doubt that China wants to see a ceasefire because China’s interests were damaged in Europe. Because of China’s neutrality, China’s relations with Western capitals have soured. This is ludicrous because China has nothing to do with this war.
– It does not make any sense that China, which has not provided weapons to Russia since the outbreak of the war, would change its mind, especially at a time when they have actually announced a peace plan. Why would Antony Blinken say that? By saying it, Blinken was actually giving a pre-emptive warning because China providing military support would be the worst fear of the U.S. But it’s totally impossible.
– The American presence in the region is not as strong as before, but the U.S. will not go away. But on this issue China is doing what the U.S. cannot do. Why? Because the U.S. doesn’t even have diplomatic relations with Iran. It cannot become a mediator between the two sides. The U.S. has allies in the region. It has to adopt double standards. Therefore, China can do a better job, but this is not an attempt to replace the U.S.
– If there were a war between Saudi and Iran, this would damage China’s interests, both economic interests and energy security, profoundly. So China needs to prevent a war and that may explain its new role.
– China depends on energy imports from the Middle East, which make up 40-50% of Chinese energy imports. We are trying to diversify, but that is the situation for now… At the same time, China’s activity in the Middle East now comprises almost everything, from building infrastructure to launching satellites to energy imports, therefore its stake on peace and stability in the Middle East has become higher.
– This is the first time China becomes directly involved in regional security. The biggest question of the 21st century is, if China’s rise is inevitable, will China create a better world? My answer is, at least it can make a safer world. At least it will make much less harm than the U.S.
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War in Ukraine: Congress adopts a declaration of condemnation
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe unanimously adopted on 21 March 2023 a Declaration to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s war against Ukraine, presented by the Congress President and Rapporteur on The Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, Leendert Verbeek (Netherlands, SOC/G/PD).
President Verbeek said that the Congress declaration is a clear message of condemnation of this brutal war and a strong reaffirmation of the Congress’ unwavering solidarity with Ukraine, its people and communities : “we must continue to show our Ukrainian friends, colleagues and peers – the elected leaders that are engaged in a battle for their lives, their citizens, their towns and their futures – that they are NOT forgotten and that we will do everything in our power now, and in the future, to support them.” President Verbeek also stressed that the declaration reiterated the Congress’ resolute support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders.
The debate was preceded by a video message from the Ukrainian Commissioner for Human Rights, Dmytro Lubinets. “The solidarity of our partners strengthens the stability of our resistance to the aggressor and our strong confidence in victory”, he underlined while speaking about the difficult humanitarian situation in Ukraine. He also stressed the importance of mechanisms for the protection of citizens’ rights on the local level for everybody. He described how his office was implementing this approach by opening representative offices of the Commissioner in each region.
In his speech, the Congress President praised the “extraordinary courage and resilience of the Ukrainians and their leadership as they relentlessly defend their country at the frontline and the home front. “The Congress commends the solidarity and unity of Europeans, their cities and regions. We call on all to continue to mobilise and provide large-scale financial, security and humanitarian assistance to their Ukrainian counterparts”, he highlighted.
During the debate, Congress members supported the creation of a special international tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine and the setting up of an international compensation mechanism for the injury, damage and loss incurred by the State of Ukraine as well as natural and legal persons in Ukraine. “It is imperative to hold Russia accountable for all crimes and justice must be done for all the victims.”, stressed President Verbeek.
“The Congress stands by the Ukrainian people at this historically decisive time for Ukraine and the world and believes in a common, democratic future based on respect for international law and a just peace.”, he concluded.
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