Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Daily 202: Billions are out of work and millions of kids could die from coronavirus's economic fallout

May 15. 2020
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By The Washington Post · James Hohmann · NATIONAL, HEALTH, POLITICS 

The U.N. Children's Fund has issued a warning that the diversion of health-care resources from existing health programs in order to combat the novel coronavirus could lead to as many as 1.2 million extra deaths among kids under 5 over the next six months. That would average out to 6,000 kids dying every day of preventable causes.

This staggering number is the worst-case scenario in a study published in the Lancet Global Health journal this week by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. These deaths are in addition to the 2.5 million children who already die every six months before their fifth birthdays across the 118 countries analyzed in the study. Experts fear this could be the first time in decades that the number of children dying before their fifth birthday will increase.

Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has mostly spared young people, with some alarming exceptions that the medical establishment is scrambling to better understand. But that does not mean that kids are safe or insulated from grave suffering as a result of the worst public health crisis since the 1910s and the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

The study suggests that up to 56,700 more maternal deaths could also occur in the next six months, in addition to the 144,000 moms who already normally die over a six-month period in those 118 countries. "We must not let mothers and children become collateral damage in the fight against the virus," said Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF. "And we must not let decades of progress on reducing preventable child and maternal deaths be lost."

There have now been 302,658 reported deaths from the coronavirus worldwide, with 4.4 million infections. The United States has reported more than 85,000 coronavirus deaths, with at least 1.4 million confirmed cases, and these are probably significant undercounts.

In addition to the body counts, and daily dispatches from hot spots about loved ones who have succumbed, this week has brought a deluge of stomach-churning numbers that illustrate the cascading economic and humanitarian fallout from the contagion. In many cases, shutdown orders are spawning unintended consequences that are causing the world's poorest communities to careen deeper into deprivation.

The International Labour Organization calculates nearly half the people in the global workforce have already lost their jobs, including 1.6 billion of the world's 2 billion informal workers.

The World Bank estimates that the loss of income for people already living close to the margins of survival will propel up to 50 million people into abject poverty this year.

The United Nations says 580 million could become impoverished as a result of the crisis. 

"And as incomes are lost, a 'hunger pandemic' could eclipse the coronavirus, the World Food Program has warned; 130 million people are expected to join the ranks of the 135 million who were expected to suffer from acute hunger this year, the agency says, bringing to 265 million the number of those at risk of starvation," the Post's Liz Sly reported from Beirut.

The hunt for a hospital bed in Brazil can last hours, and some patients don't live to see one.

"Brazil's failure to provide enough hospital beds for the surging number of critical coronavirus patients is yielding increasingly grim results across the country, but particularly in Manaus, a city of 2 million people on the Amazon River deep in the rainforest," the Post's Terrence McCoy and Heloísa Traiano reported. "More than 2,000 people died in Manaus in April, more than four times the monthly average. Now, the city is running out of coffins. Hundreds are dying at home, either because they can't get treatment at the hospitals or because they fear they won't. Ambulances race down streets with no clear destination, waiting for someone to die and relinquish a hospital bed. . . . As the pandemic moves into its next phase, pushing into the poorer nations of Africa and Latin America, the possibility of expansion has been far more limited. . . . In Brazil, which has registered more than 196,000 coronavirus cases and more than 13,000 deaths - by far the most in the Southern Hemisphere - coronavirus patients are spending their final days waiting in chairs." 

In other Post reports:

-- Haiti, which has been spared from a major outbreak so far, is now a tinderbox set to explode as thousands of workers return from the Dominican Republic, many bringing the virus with them. This is expected to spark a flare-up that the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere will be unable to handle.

-- Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador pushed back Thursday on an independent report from his own government indicating that the pandemic could drag 6.1 million to 10.7 million of his countrymen into extreme poverty. Meanwhile, authorities postponed restarting the country's auto and mining industries by two weeks. 

-- In Yemen, the number of people dying with coronavirus symptoms is spiking as hospitals shut down. Only 803 tests have been conducted so far in the country, even though at least 385 people died over the last week with what appeared to be covid-19.

Here in the United States, the economic outlook is stark.

A Federal Reserve surveyfound that 39 percent of Americans with household incomes below $40,000 lost a job in March, compared to 13 percent of Americans earning over $100,000. "A huge issue is that only certain types of work can be done from home. Sixty-three percent of workers with a college degree could fully work from home in March, the Fed found, versus only 20% of workers with a high school degree or less," the Post's Andrew Van Dam and Heather Long reported. "Over a third of people who were laid off couldn't pay their bills in April. . . . A third of renters have not paid their May rent at all or in full, according to a survey by Apartment List, an online rental marketplace."

A Census Bureau surveyfound that 7% of small-business owners said in late April and early May that they had no cash on hand, and another 9.5% say they cannot cover more than a week of operations. About half would be out of cash within a month, and only 17 % said they could last three months or longer without revenue. "Already, 11.5% of small businesses - including 29.5 percent of accommodation and food-services operations - reported missing loan payments," per Andrew and Heather. "And 24% reported missing other bills or scheduled payments. That number soars to 51% for food services and accommodation."

Seventy-five percent of small businesses requested loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, according to the Census Bureau survey, which was sent to 100,000 firms. Only 17% of businesses reported seeking no assistance at all.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that roughly 3 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, contributing to the total 36.5 million workers who have sought to receive weekly unemployment checks in the past eight weeks. The official unemployment rate in April was 14.7%.

Studies show rising unemployment is connected to deaths of despair. A report released last Friday by the Well Being Trust estimated that as many as an additional 75,000 Americans could die from drugs, alcohol or suicide as a result of the dislocation caused by the contagion. "Heightened anxiety is a near-universal trigger for drug use, and it is difficult to think of a more stressful event -- for all of us -- than this pandemic," said Peter Grinspoon, a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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