COVID-19: a snapshot of the pandemic in Young Lives study countries
Whilst the path of COVID-19 remains impossible to predict, and measures to combat it vary country by country, it is, without doubt, having substantial economic and social impacts everywhere and revealing multiple inequalities. Next week, Young Lives publishes headline findings from our first Phone Survey Call into COVID-19’s impact on young people in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam. To set the scene, our Country Directors share a snapshot of the pandemic’s trajectory and impact in their countries and the measures their governments have taken so far.
The extent of COVID-19 cases
In Ethiopia, the first COVID-19 case was reported on the 13th of March, after which the virus spread relatively slowly until July. Ethiopia now ranks 8th out of 57 African countries and by August 4th, 19877 cases and 343 deaths had been recorded. A recent upsurge in cases is most probably linked to the rainy season (often associated with flu viruses) and exacerbated by recent political unrest.
The first COVID-19 case in India was reported on January 30th. Since then the epidemic has grown exponentially and by August 4th India ranked third in the world, with 1.9 million confirmed cases and 39,820 associated deaths. The number of confirmed cases and deaths per million people is still low at 934 and 22, respectively, but given India’s 1.4 billion population and rampant poverty, this is widely expected to increase.
Peru is among the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 globally. As of August 4th there were 439,890 cases and 20,007 deaths. placing Peru 7th in the world with 594 deaths per million people. The death rate may be even higher, given the number of total deaths, from any cause, reported in the country compared to a similar period one year before.
In early July 2020, Vietnam had only 355 cases, and zero deaths. Placing the country 156th in the world in terms of infections. After approximately 100 days without any new cases caused by community transmission, one new case was reported on July 25th in Da Nang, the country’s third largest city, shortly followed by many other infections related to the area. By 4th August 2020, there were 672 reported cases and 8 fatalities.
Government measures and emerging impacts
The Ethiopian government’s response was fairly rapid and proactive. Public and religious meetings were banned, education institutions and borders closed and flights cancelled. A State of Emergency was declared on April 8th. Vigorous media campaigns were conducted, including the latest to test 200,000 people in 2 weeks,and social distancing measures were imposed including mandatory facemasks in public and hand washing. Official messages on preventative measures play before every telephone call. National social protection measures were introduced to make it illegal to lay off workers and increase rents; regional measures addressed food security, utility waivers, social insurance and sick leave; however, some measures continue to be piecemeal and regional approaches differ.
Despite the measures taken, the pandemic has had a crippling effect on the economy, and recent phone surveys show that more than half of households report loss of income during this period.
COVID-19, is affecting people disproportionately according to their gender, age, location, occupation, health, wealth and vulnerability. There is a greater concentration of cases in the capital, Addis Ababa, (77%) and amongst men (61%). Yet, women are seriously affected too, losing paid work, increasing unpaid care work and suffering from increasing risk of gender based violence. Deaths are highest amongst the elderly (74%>50; 43%>60) but over half the cases are among young people (56%<30; 43% 21-30). Children and youth have been affected by the closure of educational institutions and the interruption of school feeding.
India went into nationwide lockdown at the end of March. After 3 extensions it became the longest lockdown ever imposed by a country. Only essential services were allowed and educational institutions, flights, trains, metros, hospitality services and large gatherings of any kind were prohibited. Steps were taken to boost health infrastructure and a campaign on the importance of social distancing and personal hygiene launched.
Despite the Government of India advising employers not to lay off or reduce employees’ wages, the workforce shrank by 122 million in April 2020. With factories and workplaces shut, millions of migrant workers faced losing their livelihoods. The IMF have forecast that the Indian economy will shrink by 4.5% in 2020-21.
The Government initiated a number of measures to ease the plight of migrants and alleviate economic loss. Unlock 1.0 came into effect on June 8, 2020 when various restrictions were relaxed.
COVID-19 is having multi-faceted impacts on the health and wellbeing of individuals as well as for the economy in general. Children and youth have been affected by the shutdown of educational institutions and despite schemes promoting online classes, a huge digital divide excludes vulnerable students with limited or no internet facilities. While State educational institutes move to upgrade infrastructure and teachers’ skills, this remains an uphill task. India also faces a shortage of healthcare personnel and existing hospitals are poorly equipped with inadequate infrastructure.
Peru’s government took early measures against COVID-19, including a country-wide quarantine on March 17 and a curfew which is still in place. The lockdown, which continues today for some regions and businesses (e.g. no international travel is allowed, all education institutions are closed and any type of social gathering or performance is prohibited), is expected to lower Peru’s GDP by around 12%, (which would be the largest impact in Latin America).
Government measures included various unconditional cash transfers, and people in need were allowed to withdraw part of their retirement funds. Businesses have been offered loans (drawing heavily on national reserves) but despite this, a large number are expected to declare bankruptcy and poverty is expected to increase from 2019 levels (of 20.2% of the population).
Efforts have been made to expand health facilities with intensive care units specifically oriented to COVID-19 patients. But, most of these have already reached full capacity; the need for more beds, oxygen and health professionals is reported in the news daily.
For preschool, primary and secondary education, the government quickly implemented the Aprendo en Casa(Learning at Home) program, providing educational content via TV, radio and digital devices. While TV and radio have extensive reach, internet availability is more limited (urban access (62%) much greater than in rural areas (18%)) and this is expected to widen the large gaps in learning levels between urban and rural students after the emergency. University classes are being held through virtual devices but high levels of students are unable to enroll due to the need to work or because of health issues.
The fear of getting sick, the worries about not being able to work or study, and the pressures from being isolated are expected to generate mental health problems in many families.
The Government of Vietnam responded swiftly to the crisis, benefitting from experience with previous outbreaks, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), in 2003. The Prime Minister immediately prioritized health over economic concerns. Strict containment measures included school closures, banning large gatherings, closing down non-essential businesses, closing borders, imposing a mandatory quarantine period of 14 days for all arrivals from abroad and extensive contact tracing of reported cases. From April 1st, a fifteen day nationwide lockdown was implemented. Only essential businesses were allowed to open, provided that workers followed strict health guidelines, while people were ordered to stay at home and only go out in case of emergencies.
In what is considered a “whole-society fight”, unique to Vietnam, these measures were rapidly implemented by the military, public security services, mass organizations and the general public. Details on symptoms, protective measures, and testing sites were communicated through traditional and social media, via mobile phones and specialized apps, and have resulted in wide public support and associated good implementation of social distancing measures countrywide.
Despite this, the pandemic has had significant economic and social impacts. According to the General Statistical Office, GDP for the first six months of 2020 grew by only 1.81 % compared to the same period last year (below the average rate of 5.44 % this decade). The pandemic has affected the employment of 30.8 million people aged 15 and older and incomes declined by over 5% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period of 2019. In response, the Government has employed numerous measures to support the economy, including a relief package worth USD 2.6 billion for the poor and vulnerable people.
According to the Ministry of Health, the fresh outbreak of the virus is more contagious. New restrictive measures limiting travel to and from Da Nang were quickly implemented, followed by testing and tracing travellers coming from Da Nang to other provinces
Alula Pankhurst – Country Director, Ethiopia
‘ COVID-19 seems likely to become an increasing problem and a feature of life, even as it takes attention away from other serious health risks and food insecurity. Whether the pandemic will get out of hand and overwhelm the health services remains to be seen, but the socio-economic impacts will be lasting and far reaching.'
Renu Singh – Country Director, India
‘While the Indian government has been trying its best to address the challenges related to the health and socio-economic well-being of its citizens, it is clear that the war against COVID-19 is far from over. It is time to invest in infrastructure and create systems that are accessible to all.’
Santiago Cueto – Country Director, Peru
'The COVID-19 crisis has revealed multiple inequalities linked to wealth, residence, and on-line access giving rise to dramatic impacts on the opportunities and lives of millions. In 2021 Peru will hold presidential elections. Candidates will be expected to propose improvements in the access to and quality of health, education, social protection and mental well-being services.'
Nguyen Thang, Country Director, Vietnam
‘As this wave is still evolving from day to day, with a rise in confirmed cases in other cities and provinces, further restrictive measures continue to be deployed. “The whole society fight” unfolds again.’
Headline reports from the First Call of Young Lives at Work’s Phone Call Survey in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam will be published next week. Young Lives At Work (YLAW) is funded by the UK's Department of International Development. For more on YLAW, please see our webpage here or follow us on Twitter @yloxford, LinkedIn or Facebook.
Photo credit: © Young Lives / Mulugeta Gebrekidan. The images throughout our publications are of children living in circumstances and communities similar to the children within our study sample.