Collective efforts key to fighting pandemic
The deadly coronavirus has started to take an outrageous toll. More than nine-and-a-half million people across the globe have been infected while nearly half-a-million people unfortunately lost their lives to the disease.
The real danger though is that nobody really knows what the depth and breadth of the coronavirus fallout will be like.
COVID-19 has not limited itself to just taking lives but is also severely impacting people' livelihoods.
In a bit to curb the rising number of coronavirus cases, governments worldwide various restrictions on public movement. Subsequently, all economic activities were halted in countries under lockdown.
As a result, unemployment rates shot through the roof as a significant portion of self-employed individuals and small business owners have already lost or are on the verge of losing their hope to survive the recent economic downturn.
According to the World Bank (WB), this is the worst global economic recession in decades.
By the end of 2020, the global economy is expected to contract by 5.2 per cent while advanced economies are projected to shrink by 0.7 per cent and emerging economies will shrivel by 2.5 per cent.
However, the WB warns that if the pandemic does not subside, leading to prolonged restrictions on movement, then the recession could be even worse and global economic growth could shrink by up to 8 per cent.
As witnessed in different parts of the world, economic activities have slowly started to resumes and if the momentum keeps going, the global economy can be expected to bounce back in 2021 with a modest growth of 4.2 per cent.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, businesses have been badly hit as many firms have been forced to minimize their operations while others have closed up shop entirely.
The coronavirus fallout had a particularly severe impact on certain sectors, specifically the service industry which includes hotels, transportation and entertainment. The manufacturing sector also felt the full brunt of the pandemic.
Global trade is also expected to plummet this year as more than 436 million enterprises worldwide not face the risk of serious disruptions in the supply chain.
These enterprises are operating in the hardest-hit economic sectors, including some 232 million in wholesale and retail, 111 million in manufacturing, 51 million in accommodation and food services, and 42 million in real estate and other business activities.
Due to the damage done by the virus so far, there has been a considerable rise in unemployment and layoffs.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), roughly 195 million jobs are expected to be lost in 2020.
However, most of these occupations belong to people working in organised sectors. Therefore, if the number of people who might lose their jobs in the informal sector was tallied, the actual figures would be staggering.
The ILO further warns that the 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy, which makes up nearly half of the global workforce, is in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.
In most crisis situations, there is almost always widespread panic, however, the only thing the world needs to survive one of the biggest disasters it has ever seen is compassionate leadership and collective efforts.
World leaders must keep in mind that the ongoing pandemic is a global challenge and that is why no individual country or region should have to face this crisis alone.
Evert corner of the globe is interconnected these days and therefore, individual countries are unable to survive in isolation. This begs the questions, what should the world leaders do now and how.
The top priority for any nation is to contain the disease but to do that, a global emergency fund needs to be established to foster the research and development of a vaccine. This initiative needs to be driven by a globally recognised organisation in the field, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Both private and public medical research institutes across the planet are currently making individual efforts to secure a vaccine but instead, they should all pool their resources to expedite the process.
Obviously, businesses should do their part as well by providing logistical support for the research.
Once the vaccine is developed, the next immediate task would be to produce nearly seven-and-a-half million vials to inoculate the global population.
This is no easy task though as the WHO needs to assess whether it is even feasible to produce such large quantities of a potential vaccine in a short span of time.
If it turns out that the production capacity does indeed to be expanded, then it would seem optimistic to only rely on businesses to sort the matter.
The other issue is keeping the cost of vaccination to a minimum so that that everyone will be able to afford it.
If required, governments should be able to distribute the vaccine free of cost among the marginalized. To distribute vaccines to the more remote parts of globe will also be a challenging task that requires proper planning and preparation.
Up until a vaccine is found, the governments have to ensure adequate treatment facilities for the infected.
The pandemic served as an eye opener to the world as it showed the international community just how vulnerable or inadequate the medical facilities are in most countries.
Again, this is an issue the WHO could help address by helping countries improve their healthcare infrastructure. At the same time, the WHO would need to ensure adequate training for healthcare professionals so that proper treatments can be delivered.
To carry out all these tasks, the creation of a fund would naturally be key. Therefore, world leaders should immediately sit together and raise the funds while businesses could also make significant contributions.
Many governments have rolled out stimulus packages in an attempt to revive their economy but seeing as the global economy is hugely inclusive and interdependent, a collective effort is required here as well.
Global organisations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund should devise a comprehensive plan to help the worse-off countries. These organisations should asses damage done by the coronavirus country by country before providing them concessional financing to help recover.
Each individual country could then extend support to their business enterprises and other organizations. Therefore, the immediate task should be to create a 'Global Bailout Fund'.
Another key task is to help the millions of people who have either lost, or are on the verge of losing, their jobs. The ILO's Director General Guy Ryder said: 'for millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future. As the pandemic and the jobs crisis evolves, the need to protect the most vulnerable becomes even more urgent'.
It has become quite evident that, unless collective efforts are made, the world will not be able to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. And as the people living during this time, history will judge us should we fail to survive.
The author is chairman and managing director of BASF Bangladesh Ltd.