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Jordan: COVID-19 Pandemic Weighs Heavily on the Economy, as it does on the Region

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The World Bank launched today its Jordan Economic Monitor (JEM) Spring 2020 edition “Weathering the Storm” in a virtual meeting hosted by the Jordan Strategy Forum and in collaboration with the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation.  The JEM discusses the recent economic developments and highlights some of the key macroeconomic policy challenges facing the Kingdom, mainly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that has severely affected the lives and livelihoods of Jordanian citizens.

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a severe economic and social shock on all countries alike, and Jordan is no exception. Yet the impact on Jordan’s economy is further amplified as the country was already moving along a low growth trajectory amid high youth and women unemployment rates. The pandemic is likely to lead to a deep global recession that could potentially be protracted, in part due to the lingering health risks. According to the report, the Jordanian economy is projected to contract by 3.5% in 2020. This compares to a forecasted contraction of 4.2 percent for the MNA Region and a contraction of 5.2 percent for the World economy according to the World Bank’s June 2020 Global Economic Prospects. This negative impact is expected due to various channels, in particular trade, remittances, tourism, as well as the service sector. There are major downside risks to this projection as some countries have difficulties getting the first wave of the pandemic under control while others could face a second wave. Given the services-oriented nature of its economy, Jordan is expected to gradually recover while still remaining below its long-term trend.

“The recent global and domestic disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic are severely impacting the Jordanian economy and its prospects,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The World Bank is committed to support Jordan take swift measures to protect the poor and the vulnerable, maintain the provision of essential services, buffer economic activity, and preserve human capital investments.”

The response to this crisis requires a substantial mobilization of resources. Given deteriorating global liquidity conditions, additional financing needs arising from the COVID-19 crisis will likely be high and persist over the medium term, and hence further heighten Jordan’s dependence on official flows. “Over the medium-term reviving growth and job creation—which is key to long-term sustained reduction in poverty and vulnerability—will depend on the pace of global recovery and the economy’s own resilience,” said Saadia Refaqat, World Bank Senior Economist and author of the report.  

Over the past few years, Jordan has laid the foundation for a more sustainable and inclusive growth through its Five-Year Reform Matrix to set Jordan on a growth path, focusing on creating jobs, especially for youth and women. The Government, with support from the World Bank, has already made important progress with the implementation of key reforms in the area of labor market, social safety nets, private sector competitiveness and governance. Faced with new challenges from the COVID-19 shock, steadfast focus on key structural reforms in agriculture, tourism, trade facilitation, support to SMEs, digital transformation as well as improving the business environment and access to finance can help Jordan accelerate its recovery and further strengthen resilience.

“At the outset of COVID-19 outbreak, Jordan moved rapidly to mitigate and contain the spread of the virus, undertaking strict measures and prioritizing the health and lives of its citizens.” said Wissam Rabadi, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation. “Our response strategy resulted in recording a relatively low number of cases and mortalities, and accordingly enabled the economy, within a short period of time, to fully reopen domestically. The challenge ahead of the world, including Jordan, is to recover from this shock as quickly and efficiently as possible towards a more sustainable and inclusive economy.”

The Jordan Economic Monitor also includes two Special Focus sections. “Women and Work in Jordan” and “Jordan Jobs Diagnostic”. The sections examine the causes behind weak job creation, particularly for women and the youth, and the low female labor force participation, where Jordan scores below regional and international standards. The report calls for critical legal and regulatory reforms to the work permit system to reduce informality, revision to wages and compensation schemes of the public sector in contrast to those of the private sector, and improvement in the business environment, specifically for young firms so that they can grow and create much needed jobs. The sections also emphasize the need to address some of the barriers holding back women from accessing the job market such as the lack of adequate childcare services, poor public transportation conditions, gender related wage gaps, and social norms that imply certain societal expectations to the role of women.

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Health & Wellness

Over 500,000 people have been inoculated against COVID-19 in Moscow

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The number of people who wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in Moscow has reached half a million, and over 500,000 of them have already received their first jab. Every day between 12,000 and 20,000 residents of the city sign up for vaccination.

Vaccines are being administered in 100 vaccination points in city polyclinics and 20 popular public places, where mobile teams have been deployed. The list of categories of citizens entitled to vaccination is constantly expanding and the city’s vaccination campaign is picking up pace.

The list of categories of citizens prioritized for vaccination also includes Muscovites over the age of 60 years old (who form the largest risk group and are most vulnerable to COVID-19). More than 9,000 residents of 33 retirement homes have already been vaccinated. In addition, vaccination is recommended for people with chronic diseases who need to stay at home, as well as college and university students over 18 years of age.

A convenient online vaccination appointments system has been set up specially for Muscovites in the mos.ru portal. It can be accessed by going to ‘Doctor’s Appointment’ in the list of services and selecting ‘Vaccination Against COVID-19’.

In addition, vaccine appointments can be made via the My Moscow mobile app, the Moscow Gosuslugi government services website and the emais.info medical services portal, as well as by calling a vaccination center. The vaccine is administered in two doses, with appointments for the second injection being made automatically.

Many large employers are requesting on-site vaccination of their staff, and this network will be gradually expanded. Naturally, the throughput capacity of such organizations and, most importantly, the employers’ wishes are being taken into account.

Detailed information on the vaccination program has also been posted in the portal’s special project.

The Sputnik V vaccine consists of two components requiring two injections, and provides a reliable immune response. Volunteers will first be injected with the first component of the vaccine, with a second vaccination following 21 days later. Only the first appointment needs to be booked, as the doctor will arrange the patient’s second visit on the day of their first vaccination. To ensure that people do not forget about their re-vaccination, they will receive an SMS message the day before it, reminding them of the date, time and clinic they need to attend.

The vaccination process takes at least an hour, including a 10-minute examination by a doctor before the vaccination and 15 minutes spent preparing the vaccine, which is stored in frozen state (with five doses in one vial) and thawed for five patients at once when they have been examined. Post-vaccination observation and examination take a further 30 minutes. Each patient receives a certificate recording the two injections and confirming that they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The vaccine was produced using a biotechnological process based on the most modern technological platform created by Russian scientists. It is safe because it does not contain the coronavirus. It is based on special structures (carrier vectors) created in the laboratory that contain only a part of the virus gene. Upon encountering the vaccine, the human immune system produces protective antibodies.

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Human Rights

Belarus human rights situation deteriorating further

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Large crowds have demonstrated their anger at the results of the presidential election in Belarus. Photo: Kseniya Halubovich

A “systematic crackdown” against dissent in Belarus is continuing, months since the country’s disputed presidential election last year, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet has told the Human Rights Council.

In comments to the Geneva forum on Thursday, the High Commissioner for Human Rights insisted that curbs on demonstrators had got worse since last August’s poll returned President Alexander Lukashenko to office.

Those protests had led to “mass arbitrary arrests and detentions” of largely peaceful demonstrators, along with “hundreds of allegations of torture and ill-treatment”, Ms. Bachelet said, before noting that “not one of the hundreds of complaints for acts of torture and ill-treatment” had been investigated.

The High Commissioner highlighted concerns about Government proposals which would reportedly “enable harsher punishments” for those taking part in peaceful demonstrations from now on.

To date, nearly 250 people have received prison sentences on allegedly politically-motivated charges context of the 2020 presidential election, Ms. Bachelet said.

‘Unprecedented’ human rights crisis

The OHCHR report “covers serious violations” of rights between 1 May and 20 December last year. “The events that unfolded before and immediately after the election have led to a human rights crisis of unprecedented dimension in the country”, added Ms. Bachelet.

All of the violations detailed “committed with impunity, created an atmosphere of fear”, she said, noting the further deterioration since December.

She said journalists were being increasingly targeted, “and human rights defenders both institutionally and individually. Just last week, large-scale searches of human rights defenders, journalists, and organizations such as the Belarusian Association of Journalists and Viasna (A Minsk-based human rights centre) were conducted, reportedly in connection with criminal investigations for ‘mass disorder’”.

Release innocent protesters

She told the Council it was “essential for the future of the country that respect for human rights, and the broadest possible civic space, be established. All those who have been detained for peacefully exercising their rights should be released.”

The rights chief called for “thorough, effective, credible and transparent investigations” into all the allegations of serious violations, with perpetrators being brought to justice, as well as an “immediate end” to the Government policy of harassment and intimidation of civil society and media workers.

“I further recommend comprehensive reform of the national legal framework”, she concluded. “Our report includes specific recommendations, which address key systemic issues, including with respect to fair trials, due process and the independence of the judiciary.”

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Health & Wellness

Natalia Vodianova joins UNFPA to tackle stigma and advance women’s health

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Russian supermodel and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova has been appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA. Photo: UNFPA

The UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, on Wednesday appointed supermodel, philanthropist, and impact investor Natalia Vodianova as its newest Goodwill Ambassador, in an effort to empower women and girls, including fighting stigma surrounding menstruation.

“For too long, society’s approach to menstruation and women’s health has been defined by taboo and stigma”, said Ms. Vodianova, stressing that the situation “has undermined the most basic needs and rights of women.”

In her new role with UNFPA, officially known as the UN Population Fund, Ms. Vodianova will seek to help culturally redefine menstruation, as a normal bodily function.

On any given day, more than 800 million women and girls aged 15 to 49 are actively menstruating. In many countries, taboos surrounding the cycle leaves girls vulnerable and can even be life-threatening, says UNFPA, as they are excluded from public life, denied opportunities, sanitation and basic health needs.

Major mission

The agency said in a press release, that the issue has been starved of the attention it deserves, but in recent years that has started to change, and “achieving this, is central to UNFPA’s mandate”.

“It’s a tragic irony that something as universal as menstruation can make girls feel so isolated…We all have a role to play in breaking the taboos around menstruation”, said UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem, underscoring the significance of spotlighting the damage caused.

She added that the agency “is pleased to partner with such a powerful and committed advocate. Societies prosper when girls are confident, empowered and making their own decisions!”

Building on past momentum

Over the past three years, Ms. Vodianova has teamed up with UNFPA to launch a series of “Let’s Talk” events worldwide, which have mobilised policy makers, civil society and the private sector to help tackle shame, exclusion and discrimination, faced routinely by millions of women and girls.

Leaders from various sectors such as fashion, politics, sport, technology and media have also gathered in Turkey, Kenya, Switzerland, Belarus and India to advance women’s health.

Raised in poverty by a single mother in Russia, along with caring for a half-sister who has cerebral palsy and autism, Ms.Vodianova is a passionate advocate for human rights, including reproductive rights and the rights of people living with disabilities, UNFPA noted.

The agency said it was looking forward to working with her in her role as a bridge builder across the fashion and technology industries, where she’s an influential international voice, to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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