More research is needed into factors that increase the risk of severe COVID-19 disease among children and adolescents, the head of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has said, adding that while children may have largely been spared many of the most severe effects, they have suffered in other ways.
Joining the heads of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), at a press conference on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus outlined that since the start of the COVID pandemic, understanding its effects on children has been a priority.
“Nine months into the pandemic, many questions remain, but we are starting to have a clearer picture. We know that children and adolescents can be infected and can infect others”, he said.
“We know that this virus can kill children, but that children tend to have a milder infection and there are very few severe cases and deaths from COVID-19 among children and adolescents.”
According to WHO data, less than 10 per cent of reported cases and less than 0.2 per cent of deaths are in people under the age of 20. However, additional research is needed into the factors that put children and adolescents at an increased risk.
In addition, the potential long-term health effects in those who have been infected remains unknown.
Referring to closure of schools around the world, which has hit millions of children, impacting not only their education but also a range of other important services, the WHO Director-General said that the decision to close schools should be a last resort, temporary and only at a local level in areas with intense transmission.
Keeping classrooms open, ‘a job for all of us’
The time during which schools are closed should be used for putting in place measures to prevent and respond to transmission when schools reopen.
“Keeping children safe and at school is not a job for schools alone, or governments alone or families alone. It’s a job for all of us, working together,” added Mr. Tedros.
“With the right combination of measures, we can keep our kids safe and teach them that health and education are two of the most precious commodities in life,” he added.
Guidance on reopening schools, while keeping children and communities safe
Although children have largely been spared many of the most severe health effects of the virus, they have suffered in other ways, said Director-General Tedros, adding that closure of schools hit millions of children globally.
Given different situations among countries: some, where schools have opened and others, where they have not, UNESCO, UNICEF and WHO, issued updated guidance on school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19.
Based on latest scientific evidence, the guidance provides practical advice for schools in areas with no cases, sporadic cases, clusters of cases or community transmission. They were developed with input from the Technical Advisory Group of Experts on Educational Institutions and COVID-19, established by the three UN agencies in June.
Schools provide critical, diverse services
Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, also highlighted the importance of school, not only for teaching, but also for providing health, protection and – at times – nutrition services.
“The longer schools remain closed, the more damaging the consequences, especially for children from more disadvantaged backgrounds … therefore, supporting safe reopening of schools must be a priority for us all”, she said.
In addition to safely reopening schools, attention must focus on ensuring that no one is left behind, Ms. Azoulay added, cautioning that in some countries, children are missing from classes, amid fears that many – especially girls – may not ever return to schools.
Alongside, ensuring flow of information and adequate communication between teachers, school administrators and families; and defining new rules and protocols, including on roles of and trainings for teachers, managing school schedules, revising learning content, and providing remedial support for learning losses are equally important, she said.
“When we deal with education, the decisions we make today will impact tomorrow’s world,” said the UNESCO Director-General.
A global education emergency
However, with half the global student population still unable to return to schools, and almost a third of the world’s pupils unable to access remote learning, the situation is “nothing short of a global education emergency”, said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.
“We know that closing schools for prolonged periods of time can have devastating consequences for children,” she added, outlining their increased exposure risk of physical, sexual, or emotional violence.
The situation is even more concerning given the results from a recent UNICEF survey which found that almost a fourth of the 158 countries questioned, on their school reopening plans, had not set a date to allow schoolchildren back to the classrooms.
“For the most marginalized, missing out on school – even if only for a few weeks – can lead to negative outcomes that last a lifetime,” warned Ms. Fore.
She called on governments to prioritize reopening schools, when restrictions are lifted, and to focus on all the things that children need – learning, protection, and physical and mental health – and ensure the best interest of every child is put first.
And when governments decide to keep schools closed, they must scale up remote learning opportunities for all children, especially the most marginalized.
“Find innovative ways – including online, TV and radio – to keep children learning, no matter what”, stressed Ms. Fore.
Corporate Boards are Critical Starting Points for Implementing Stakeholder Capitalism
COVID-19 has led to global and systemic economic, social and environmental disruption, and an increasing number of companies are recognizing the need for pragmatic approaches to implement the principles of stakeholder capitalism.
A new white paper, The Future of the Corporation: Moving from Balance Sheet to Value Sheet, provides analysis about the important role boardrooms and corporate governance play in addressing the environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges their companies face. Focusing on practical tools for corporate leaders, the white paper, produced in collaboration with Baker McKenzie, provides a set of actions and stakeholder governance considerations boardrooms can take to reshape their company’s purpose and practices.
This includes leadership-level actions, such as aligning company purpose and incentives with transparent goals and KPIs, increasing board diversity and adopting the common stakeholder capitalism metrics to measure and manage global risks and opportunities related to business, society and the planet.
“Business leaders are increasingly implementing business models that create value based on stakeholder needs,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum. “While there’s increasing momentum towards stakeholder capitalism, many businesses are also looking for practical solutions to help them fully understand and address the concerns of all their stakeholders. The Forum is committed to providing measurement and governance tools that will help these leaders succeed, thereby advancing stakeholder capitalism globally.”
Effectively aligning a company’s practices with its purpose is another key role boardrooms must play when integrating stakeholder interests into their business models. Setting clear metrics for management, which align with company purpose is an important step for boards.
Ørsted, a company who successfully transformed its business from fossil fuels to renewable energy, is a clear example of how effective governance is critical to company-wide transformation For example, in its transition to being a sustainable business, Ørsted made it a board-level priority to ensure its transformation was transparent, the journey was measured with concrete metrics and it was communicated to all relevant stakeholders.
“The pandemic, climate and inequality challenges of the last year were and continue to be unprecedented. Against this backdrop, how can companies drive long-term value creation and sustainable growth? A good stakeholder governance framework will help companies mitigate risk, build resilience and enjoy sustainable value creation and long-term success; at the heart of good stakeholder governance is clearly understanding who key stakeholders are, engaging with them and bringing their voice into decision-making,” said Beatriz Araujo, Head of Corporate Governance, Baker McKenzie. She added: “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach; each company must embark on its own stakeholder governance journey and we have suggested some of the steps companies should consider taking on such a journey.”
In addition to the examples above, the white paper provides a stakeholder governance framework centred around four key areas of four key areas of leadership focus. These are:
Purpose is returning centre stage as an enabler for long-term sustainable value creation for corporate success.
Boards should ensure their companies have a clear and well understood purpose, informed by their key stakeholders’ expectations, and regularly use this purpose as a guide in their strategic decision-making.
Corporate leaders should ensure their company’s strategy is robust and designed to deliver the company’s purpose.
This strategy needs to be flexible to take account of changing stakeholder considerations. Periodic ESG risk and opportunity assessments are a tool that leaders can use to ensure they are pursuing an appropriate strategy in light of changing externalities and stakeholder feedback.
A company’s culture and values are important in ensuring decisions and daily business practices appropriately reflect their stated purpose.
Effective governance, which regularly addresses stakeholder input, is critical for running a sustainable, resilient business.
Board composition, diversity and inclusion are important factors in ensuring boardrooms are equipped with the skills needed adequately understand and consider the needs of their stakeholders.
Along with input from the Forum’s Community of Chairpersons, the whitepaper is based on interviews with senior leaders at bp, the Cambridge University Institute for Sustainability Leadership, Fidelity International and Ørsted.
Guterres warns against self-defeating ‘vaccinationalism’
With more than two million lives now lost worlwide to COVID-19, the UN Secretary-General appealed on Friday for countries to work together and help each other to end the pandemic and save lives. In a video statement, Secretary-General António Guterres noted that the absence of a global coordinated effort has worsened the pandemic’s deadly impact.
“Behind this staggering number are names and faces: the smile now only a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table, the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one”, Mr. Guterres said.
Solidarity, to save more souls
“In the memory of those two million souls, the world must act with far greater solidarity,” he added.
Since its discovery at the end of December 2019, COVID-19 has now spread to all corners of the world, with cases in 191 countries and regions. Deaths due to the disease reached the grim milestone of one million only in September.
In addition, the socio-economic impact of the pandemic has been massive, with countless jobs and livelihoods lost globally, and millions pushed into poverty and hunger.
A ‘vaccine vacuum’
Mr. Guterres went on to note that though safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out, disparity continue between nations.
“Vaccines are reaching high income countries quickly, while the world’s poorest have none at all,” he said, adding that “some countries are pursuing side deals, even procuring beyond need.”
The UN chief went on to note that while governments have a responsibility to protect their populations, “‘vaccinationalism’ is self-defeating and will delay a global recovery.”
“COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time,” he stressed. Mr. Guterres called on countries to commit now to sharing any excess doses of vaccines, to help urgently vaccinate health workers around the world and prevent health systems from collapsing.
At the same time, people must remember and practice “simple and proven” steps to keep each other safe: wearing masks, physically distancing, avoiding crowds, and hand hygiene.
“Our world can only get ahead of this virus one way – together. Global solidarity will save lives, protect people and help defeat this vicious virus”, added Mr. Guterres.
Pandemic curbs trend towards ever-increasing migration
Travel restrictions and other curbs to movement put in place in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, have put a significant dent in migration figures, but the overall trend shows 100 million more people living outside their countries of origin in 2020, compared to the year 2000, a new UN report revealed on Friday.
‘Migration is part of today’s world’
International Migration 2020 Highlights, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), shows that the pandemic may have slowed migration flows by around two million people last year, cutting the annual growth expected since mid-2019 by around 27 per cent.
Since the year 2000, however, there has been a major increase in migration. That year some 173 million people lived outside of their countries of origin. Twenty years later, that figure had risen to 281 million.
In a statement, Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said “The report affirms that migration is a part of today’s globalized world and shows how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the livelihoods of millions of migrants and their families, and undermined progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Less money sent home
The economic crisis that following in the wake of the pandemic has had a major impact on remittances, the money migrants send home to their countries of origin. The World Bank projects that remittances sent back to low- and middle-income countries may see a $78 billion dip, around 14 per cent of the total amount.
This will negatively affect the livelihoods of millions of migrants and their families, especially in those countries with a big diaspora. India, for example, has the largest diaspora in the world: 18 million people born in India live outside the country. Other nations with significant diasporas include Mexico, the Russian Federation (11 million each), China (10 million) and Syria (eight million).
US and Germany top destinations
Unsurprisingly, high income countries are the most coveted destinations for migrants. The US takes the top spot with 51 million migrants hosted in 2020.
Germany hosted the second largest number of migrants worldwide, at around 16 million, followed by Saudi Arabia (13 million), the Russian Federation (12 million) and the United Kingdom (nine million).
Many migrants do not travel far, however. Nearly half of them remain in the region from which they originated. For example, in Europe 70 per cent of migrants come from another European country. Similarly, some 63 per cent of migrants in sub-Saharan Africa come from a country in the same region.
Most refugees in lower income countries
Contrary to some perceptions, the vast majority of refugees, around 80 per cent, are hosted in low- and middle-income countries, and constitute some 12 per cent of all international migrants.
The number of refugees is rising faster than voluntary migration: the number of people forced to leave home due to conflict, crises, persecution, violence or human rights violations has doubled from 17 to 34 million since the beginning of the 21st Century.
In recognition of the need to better manage migration, the General Assembly has adopted several landmark agreements, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. DESA says that around 60 countries have begun to adopt measures to ensure safe, orderly and regular migration.
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