Corona Dispatches: The Policy Corner Community Reports

décembre 8, 2020

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The Corona Dispatches are short updates on the situation in different countries around the world, written by members and friends of The Policy Corner. You would like to write a dispatch for us? No problem — just get in touch with us at submissions@policycorner.org, we look forward to hearing from you!

Read about the situation in

Azerbaijan

Canada

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Ecuador

Ethiopia

Ghana

India

Italy

New Zealand

Sierra Leone

Singapore

South Korea

Azerbaijan

By Ismayil Ahmadov

Posted on December 29, 2020

Azerbaijan is currently facing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite an initially relatively successful management. With just over 10 million inhabitants, the total number of reported coronavirus cases exceeds 220,000 (late-December 2020). The deteriorating public health crisis has also coincided with the outbreak of war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the occupied territories of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan faced the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in late February 2020. Coronavirus appears to have spread to Azerbaijan via international travelers coming from Iran, the first country in the region to face the pandemic. Despite this, the government of Azerbaijan did not initially stop flights or close its borders. Eventually, the rapid increase of cases necessitated tough measures in a short time. The President of Azerbaijan created a coronavirus task force – the Operational Headquarters – under the Cabinet of Ministers, which introduced a special quarantine regime throughout the country.

People could leave their homes only for two hours each day after receiving SMS permission. The wearing of masks was compulsory, and a fine of 100 AZN ($59) was imposed for violating this protective measure. Schools and universities were forced to close. To replace the physical classroom, educational classes were broadcast on the state television channel “Mədəniyyət TV” (Culture TV). Nearly all employers switched to teleworking, as only 20% of employees were allowed to work in offices. Cafés and restaurants that initially still offered take-outs were also completely closed by late March 2020.

Azerbaijan coped with the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic relatively well. Compared to other developed countries with similar population sizes, the number of daily cases and the death toll were relatively low. Constant consultations between the Operational Headquarters and the World Health Organization (WHO) officials played an important role in this.

The imposed restrictions helped to avoid a healthcare catastrophe. Azerbaijan did not face a shortage of beds or ventilators in hospitals. All the necessary equipment was promptly purchased with funds from the Coronavirus Response Fund, created by a presidential decree and supported by donations from government officials, private companies and humanitarian aid. The largest initial challenge was a shortage of medical masks. To address this, the government repurposed several factories to manufacture masks by the end of March.

The government also announced two state programs to support the national economy. The first program provided unemployment benefits amounting to 190 AZN ($112) to tens of thousands of people who had lost their jobs. This program continues to exist until today. The second program aimed to address the larger economic impact of the pandemic. The government allocated 1 billion AZN ($590 million) from the state budget for this program. Small and medium-sized businesses affected by the pandemic received state support of up to 5,000 AZN ($3,000). Overall, measures to rescue the economy were effective and the country managed to avoid an economic crisis, as the economic decline amounted, according to preliminary calculations, only to 2.7% of GDP.

The country has nevertheless confronted a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Since mid-October 2020, the number of active cases grew rapidly. Public festivities in city centers contributed to the rapid growth of active cases in November, as people did not follow public health recommendations. While during the first wave the peak was 600 cases per day, they have since exceeded 4,000. The death toll also skyrocketed to four times the rate of the first wave.

In response, the government extended a special quarantine regime throughout the country until the end of 2020. Wearing masks on the street was made compulsory, and large fines await violators. All educational institutions and entertainment centers remain closed. Employees are encouraged to work from home wherever possible. Public transport, including taxis, is closed on weekends. As expected, the government tightened quarantine measures by introducing lockdowns in all major cities, including the capital of Baku, until January 18, 2021, and a special quarantine regime has been extended until the end of January 2021.

The second wave of the pandemic coincided with the resumption of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The country has declared a curfew, residents are prohibited from leaving their homes for unnecessary reasons between 21:00 and 06:00. The pandemic raging in the country, however, did not affect soldiers fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, or at least these effects have not yet been reported.

South Korea

By Jiyoung Yun

Posted on December 8, 2020

At the end of February 2020, South Korea ranked second after China for its number of COVID-19 patients. For this reason, South Korea was widely recognized as a country at risk of widespread community transmission of COVID-19. Through a rapid government response, however, South Korea has become a country that has successfully responded to COVID-19 without, so far, the need to implement any national lockdown.

On January 20th, 2020, when the first COVID-19 patient in the country was confirmed, the South Korean Government promptly reacted, deploying the Epidemic Response System that the country had launched following the 2015 MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) Outbreak by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Even though the 31st COVID-19 patient, known as a “super spreader” from a cult-religious group, threatened the initial quarantine system, the South Korean Government stood firm by its public health response of social distancing without lockdown.

In the short term, at least, extensive epidemiological investigations and simplified COVID-19 testing have played a decisive role. Pursuant to Article 76-2 of the Infectious Disease Prevention Act, the tracking of confirmed patients’ movements using mobile phone communication information and credit card details is shared with local residents, allowing them and public health officials to quickly identify who needs to be tested. Those who are tested can then be notified of their COVID-19 test results within twelve hours through a simplified test that takes less than ten minutes, and which is available through both drive-through and walk-through.

South Korea’s Epidemic Response System, however, is not a panacea. The question of whether it is possible to justify the infringement of an individual’s privacy in the name of quarantine is one that has been raised repeatedly. When infections occurred in Itaewon, a zone of Seoul frequented by foreigners and the LGBTQI+-community, some insisted that revealing the path of infection could be a forced coming-out of one’s sexual orientation. People, moreover, are getting tired of social distancing, which is an awkward middle ground between lockdown and free daily life. This fatigue is only exacerbated by South Korea’s looming economic slowdown and employment crisis.

Despite the fact that South Korea is expected to do comparably well with -1.2% GDP growth predicted for 2020 by the OECD, much better than growth predictions for the US and Europe thanks to the country’s successful initial response, the job market is affected. According to the National Statistical Office, the number of employed South Koreans, which had been steadily increasing for several years, decreased by 4,760,000 (-1.8%) in April from the same month last year, due to the impact of COVID-19.

The number of daily confirmed new cases fluctuated since mid-November at around 300 per day and eventually reached 629 on December 4. In this context, Jung Eun-kyung, the Director of the KCDC, warned that if the trajectory of the spread of COVID-19 in Korea is maintained, the number of new confirmed cases could reach 1,000 per day in 1-2 weeks’ time. In response, the Government has increased social distancing requirements, effective from December 6, inevitably further hindering South Koreans’ daily lives.

There was already a ban on the use of major infection risk facilities, including indoor sports facilities and teaching centers, from 9 pm each evening based on South Korea’s “Level 2 Plus Alpha” social distancing requirements. This “Plus Alpha” level had provoked controversy. Critics have said that the spread of COVID-19 should be prevented through stronger social distancing rules in accordance with South Korea’s five-stage classification rules. While others insisted that further restrictions should not be introduced given the high economic cost.
Due to rising numbers of infections in Seoul and the metropolitan area on December 6 “Level 2.5 and Tweezer quarantine” came into effect. While South Koreans are adhering to the new restrictions to prevent a third major outbreak, controversy in the public discourse continues.

It is too soon to say whether these reinforced measures will be effective, or simply make South Koreans more frustrated. In any case, South Koreans must accept that COVID-19 is an ongoing problem; this is not the time for a celebratory drink.

About the author of this dispatch: Jiyoung Yun is currently studying International Development at SciencesPo. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in German and International Studies from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. After graduation, while working in Honduras and South Korea, Jiyoung became interested in international development, especially sustainable development through education.

Canada

By Chloe Bray

Posted on November 24, 2020

Canada reported its first case of COVID-19 on January 25, 2020. In mid-March the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The next day, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau entered quarantine after his wife contracted COVID-19. Shortly after, Canada and the United States closed their shared border to all non-essential traffic. The Canadian-U.S. border is the world’s longest land border, and it represents a huge source of income, tourism, and trade for Canada. This closure stressed the magnitude of the pandemic for Canadians, while the quarantine of Prime Minister Trudeau drove home the gravity of the situation.

Canada is the world’s second largest country, with ten provinces and three northern territories. The size of Canada’s landmass and the unique situations of the different provinces and territories make it difficult to apply nationwide policies. The strategies applied in the province of Ontario, with a population of over 14 million, and in the territory of Nunavut, with a population of only 39,000, will necessarily have to be different. Additionally, in Canada, provincial governments control both healthcare and education, so their interventions are crucial to fighting COVID-19. Nevertheless, certain key elements were common in responses across nearly the entire country, including declarations of emergency, school and business closures, and travel restrictions.

Canada’s greatest failing in the early days of the pandemic occurred in long-term care (LTC) homes. COVID-19 outbreaks spread rapidly among elderly residents, killing thousands. These care homes are under provincial jurisdiction, and the crisis exposed the deficiencies in Canada’s decentralized LTC system. Now, Prime Minister Trudeau is working with the provinces to establish new national standards for LTC homes.

Over the summer, Canada experienced a lull in COVID-19 cases. The federal government offered financial support, including a wage subsidy for those that lost their job, and a student benefit for university students unable to find work. Restrictions were relaxed and life returned to a semi-normal state. Unfortunately, the fall brought a fresh wave of cases. The provincial governments are now handling the second wave in different ways. Some less-populated areas have managed to keep cases low. The Atlantic provinces in the East created an “Atlantic bubble” by restricting travel from the rest of the country, but certain provinces have begun pulling out of the bubble as cases begin to rise. The populous provinces of Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta are now facing a wave of cases worse than in the spring. Even the Prairie provinces, previously spared from major outbreaks, are now experiencing high case numbers. New restrictions are in place in most major cities, although schools generally remain open. Even in the remote northern territories, cases are creeping in, despite strict travel restrictions designed to prevent outbreaks from seeding in remote communities without access to medical care.

Canadians thus far have managed to avoid a full-scale confinement like those seen in Europe. Instead, businesses and public services have been closing, re-opening, and closing again in response to shifting restrictions and new lockdowns. With the second wave of COVID-19 now pushing into most provinces, and the long, dark Canadian winter underway, many Canadians are feeling uneasy about the future. Nevertheless, there is hope: the government has ordered hundreds of millions of doses of potential vaccine candidates, and certain areas of the country have managed to keep COVID-19 at bay. Like the rest of the world, Canada is eagerly awaiting a vaccine, but in the meantime the pandemic outlook depends on the actions of government and citizens alike.

About the author of this dispatch: Chloe Bray completed her B.A. in International Relations, Latin American Studies, and Spanish at the University of Toronto. She is currently completing her M.A. in International Security at Sciences Po and is also studying Publishing at Ryerson University. She is interested in the intersection of media and policy.

Singapore

By Shivani Ekkanath

Posted on September 2, 2020

When Singapore went into a nationwide lockdown or “circuit breaker,’’ there was much speculation on how this would impact the country’s July 2020 general elections. The escalation in coronavirus cases between March and April had come as a shock, with most cases found among the migrant worker community. Despite the island’s initial success in containing the crisis, Singapore has now reported over 55,000 COVID-19 cases.

In response to the pandemic, the Singaporean government launched multiple initiatives: the Temporary Relief Fund to help protect individuals who had lost their jobs, the COVID-19 Support Grant to protect employees and workers on no-pay leave, and the Courage Fund to help low-income families or families impacted directly by the virus. The government has also employed some of the most sophisticated and thorough contact tracing measures to track and contain community spread.

The migrant worker population has been especially impacted by the pandemic. Their plight has sparked a national outcry as the country finally comes to terms with its over-reliance on the migrant community and realizes that their struggles and needs have fallen through the cracks. Migrant workers have long been socially excluded and are severely underrepresented considering all the work they do. The spread of COVID-19 among migrant workers has also brought to the forefront the realities this marginalized group faces, especially when it comes to their living conditions. For instance, an average 1m^2 is allocated to each worker in a dorm that is often shared by up to 20 people. This overcrowding aggravated infection rates back in April and the rates have only subsided over the past two months. As a result, the more systemic issues at stake, such as tackling the economic and social disparities migrant workers face, are finally being discussed in the media.

In May, Singapore announced that it would begin easing restrictions in three phases. The first phase began on June 2 and the second phase followed in quick succession on June 19. The elections were scheduled to take place on July 10. Although the positive popular response to the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) handling of the pandemic seemed like an opportune time to head to the polls and strengthen the party’s mandate, the election was also a litmus test for a number of other underlying issues that had been festering since the previous elections in 2015. Shifting views surrounding race, religion, LGBTQIA+ rights and youth were front and center against a backdrop of an uncertain economic future owing to the impacts of the global pandemic.

Opposition parties such as the Worker’s Party (WP), Progressive Singapore Party (PSP), and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) capitalized on these issues through social media. These parties stimulated public debate despite limited ability to engage in traditional grassroots campaigning due to strict social distancing measures. The political arena was more diverse – in terms of both gender and race – during this election, with opposition parties putting forth many young and diverse candidates.

The elections went smoothly with strict social distancing and hygiene measures in place to ensure the safety and health of older voters. To avoid creating crowds, voters were given a two-hour window during which they could cast their votes. The number of polling stations was also increased from 880 to 1100.

The pandemic has led the nation to ponder important questions, not only about its government, but also about other matters concerning true inclusion and solidarity. The election results spoke for themselves, with the ruling PAP party suffering a significant blow, resulting in a noticeable decrease in its share of the popular vote. The WP had a strong showing, gaining three whole constituencies. The results of the election indicate a collective disillusionment among the population, with the PAP failing to receive a strong show of support for its renewed mandate.

About the author of this dispatch: Shivani is a third year political science undergraduate enrolled in the Dual BA program between Sciences Po Paris and UC Berkeley. She hopes to pursue journalism in the future and specialise in human rights related issues and marginalised communities.

New Zealand

By Hamish Dick

Posted on August 3, 2020

New Zealand is in a unique position with respect to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—quite unlike any other country.

Geographically isolated, on the far side of the world, New Zealand is often late to the party. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark once remarked that, due to its unique geographic location, New Zealand is perhaps “the most strategically secure country in the world.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, the country’s isolation has, once again, proved to be more of a blessing than a curse. It was not until February 28th that New Zealand reported its first case of COVID-19; an individual who returned to Auckland from Iran. On  March 4th a woman who returned from Italy was confirmed as the country’s second case.

After some initial hesitancy—as the extent of the pandemic was growing but still unclear—the New Zealand Government was firm in its response. This initial hesitancy was warranted. Tourism, after all, is one of the country’s biggest exports. Shutting New Zealand off from the rest of the world, without a plan for economic crisis management, threatened self-destruction of the greatest magnitude. On March 14th the New Zealand Government announced that anyone entering the country must self-isolate for 14 days.

Against the scale of the rapidly spreading pandemic, self-isolation quickly proved an insufficient measure—more of a deterrent than real protection, as it became clear that not all individuals arriving in New Zealand were willing to adhere to such a rule. On March 19th therefore, and for the first time in the country’s history, the New Zealand Government announced the closure of the country’s borders to all but citizens and permanent residents. On March 25th the Government declared a nationwide state of emergency and the country readied itself for a full lockdown, beginning at midnight.

The robustness of this national response—in stark contrast to many other western countries—has yielded exponential returns. New Zealand now has no community transmission of the virus; only a small handful of cases identified at the border, where returning Kiwis are being held in quarantine for two weeks. Domestically, the economy is open for business once more. Individuals can travel the country for both work and pleasure with few, if any, restrictions on movement.

So what’s next? As a result of its domestic success, New Zealand now perhaps has the most uncertain path out of this pandemic. Every day that the country’s border closure is prolonged represents millions in lost revenue for tourism operators, universities, the hospitality sector, and more. Every additional day that the country’s border is closed, the New Zealand taxpayer must consider the costs of industry support. The Government has spent enormous sums in its economic response, which included a generous wage subsidy scheme and established a NZD $50 billion COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund.

For New Zealand, the future is highly uncertain. Will the virus slip through the border? Will the country’s borders remain closed until a vaccine is widely available? For now, however, the country can enjoy the normality of life once more. Enjoy it must, for this precious normality may not last. With some certainty, it cannot last.

About the author of this dispatch: Hamish Dick is a graduate of both Massey University and Victoria University of Wellington. Most recently, he completed a Master of Strategic Studies as a Freyberg Scholar at Victoria, researching how the strategy of the New Zealand Government aligns with its political rhetoric. Hamish now works in the Wellington state sector.

Sierra Leone

By Foday Justice Jalloh

Posted on June 27, 2020

On March 30th, Sierra Leone recorded its index COVID-19 case; a 37-year-old male citizen who had returned from France two weeks prior, testing positive at the end of his quarantine period. As of July 16th, there are 1,678 confirmed cases, 1,213 recoveries and 64 deaths. The Western Area Urban district, which also includes the capital, is the worst affected area, recording 800 cases.

Unlike the initial response to Ebola, the government has met COVID-19 with swift measures, closing national land, air, and sea borders (exempting transportation of essential goods) and imposing a mandatory 14-day quarantine for international arrivals. The government also declared a year-long state of emergency consisting of inter-district lockdowns, successive three days lockdowns, closures of public spaces, and compulsory facemasks in public places. Increasing economic challenges, however, have led to the lifting of inter-district lockdowns and eased curfews. Other responses to the crisis include the Emergency Operation Centre, the National COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre (NACOVERC), and a quick response economic plan – which encompasses direct cash transfers to the most vulnerable – to soften the worsening economic situation.

While citizens overwhelmingly supported the fight against the pandemic at the beginning, opinions later diverged, with increasing numbers of people denying the disease exists in Sierra Leone when comparing the situation to Europe, Asia, and America. Moreover, COVID-19 has immensely affected education, including the government’s Free Quality Education program, and has underlined the need to curb fake news during emergencies of similar nature. It has become clear that in order to effectively face the pandemic, the country’s priorities should be to continuously evaluate its health emergency response mechanisms and urgently offer e-learning more broadly.

About the author of this dispatch: Foday holds a Bachelor of Social Science Degree (First Class honors) in Peace and Conflict Studies from the Fourah Bay College University of Sierra Leone. Foday works as a volunteer at the Campus Peace Club youth organization; and would like to do research on human rights, peace and development.

Ghana

By Isaay Newton Bortey

Posted on July 23, 2020

The first two Covid-19 cases were reported in Ghana on 12 March 2020, and the infections have since escalated to 22,822 confirmed cases, with 17,564 recoveries and 129 deaths (mid-July 2020). So far, the Accra and Ashanti region have been the epicenters with 85.5% of all confirmed cases.

How does the Ghanaian government react to the Covid-19 pandemic?

In response to the first cases, the government set out five key objectives to combat the pandemic. These are to limit and stop the importation of the virus, contain its spread, provide adequate care for the sick, limit the impact of the virus on social and economic life and enhance our domestic capability and self-reliance. A variety of measures have been put in place to achieve these objectives and the reactivity and practicality of the government’s approach so far stands out.

 

How are Ghanaians reacting to the lockdown?

Ghanaian’s have been generally receptive to the measures that have been implemented by the government. The period of lockdown was well observed with few cases of people flouting the rules. It has been most challenging to ensure the observance of the ban on social gatherings—which is still in force. Ghanaians do not accept practices such as private burials or small weddings. They are simply waiting for a lift of the ban on social gatherings to organize large burial services, which means that mortuaries are filling up quickly (not from Covid-19 deaths).

 

How is the Ghanaian economy and social security system doing in these times?

The large informal sector (90%) of the economy influenced the government’s efforts in its fight against Covid-19. But poorly designed food distribution schemes to poor households during the lockdown became potential transmission grounds by leading to large gatherings of people jostling for food. Also, the countries relatively weak social safety nets could not be relied on as automatic stabilizers for affected people. Additional economic measures had to be taken, such as the as the absorption of three months of water bills for all Ghanaians and subsidizing electricity bills. Ghana also launched a GH₵ 1.2 billion Coronavirus Alleviation Programme (CAP), which is aimed at providing soft loans to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).

About the author of this dispatch: Isaac is a peer-reviewer in Economic Policy, Development and Health. He is interested in public policy and development issues. Isaac has practical experience in policy analysis and advocacy. He is a Chartered Economist with the Global Academy of Finance and Management.

Congo (DRC)

By Jean de Dieu Kizito Cirhigiri

Posted on June 27, 2020

Covid-19 has been declared a pandemic of international concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in February 2020 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has not been insulated from this growing crisis. In fact, the country registered its first case on 10 March and to date has recorded 4015 confirmed cases and 84 deaths; with the fatality and recovery rates standing at two and twenty-six percent respectively. The capital city Kinshasa, with the highest concentration of the population, has registered 3625 confirmed cases, which is far higher than in other states in the DRC.

In mid-March 2020 a national committee has been instituted, which consists of (1) a presidential task force chaired by the President, (2) a multisectoral committee on Covid-19 chaired by the Prime Minister and the Public Health Ministry acting as the secretary; and (3) a technical secretariat for administrative and technical support, which is chaired by Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, well known for his discovery of the Ebola Vaccine. Working closely with the WHO, the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB[1]) has been the official laboratory to confirm cases of Covid-19 in the country. However, its geographical location in Kinshasa does not favor easy and swift Covid-19 testing, isolation and identification. For this reason, taskforces to locally administer the testing and report to the INRB have been established in some provinces.

The effectiveness of the government’s efforts has fallen victim to disinformation and the fact that already before the pandemic the majority of the population lacked a stable income; both issues disincentivize compliance with the health and safety measures needed during a pandemic. In the DRC, the optimal policy should be holistic and take into account the two main variables: social distancing measures and economic support.

[1] French meaning: Institut national de recherche biomédicale

About the author of this dispatch: Jean de Dieu Cirhigiri is a master’s student in public policy at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, University of Erfurt, Germany. He spoke at the European Public Policy Conference in Spain in 2019 and he is currently a delegate at the World Bank Group Youth Summit.

India

By Anahitaa Bakshi

Posted on June 22, 2020

On the 21st of March at 8 pm, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India was going into a complete lockdown for 21 days starting at midnight. After multiple extensions, on the 8th of June, India finally began its unlock phase. However, the rate of new cases is still growing exponentially. At 381,539 cases India is now officially 4th in the world by the number of cases.

The government has promised many schemes and relief packages totaling INR 20 lakh crore (USD 280 billion) but in a country where access to schemes is a huge barrier, the true heroes that have emerged are the non-governmental and civil society organizations. Given their grassroots-level reach and decentralized systems already in place they have been able to get resources and aid to communities in need much quicker than the government. Citizens across the country have stepped up to support each other.

India as a nation had many challenges pre-COVID-19 as well – it ranks 102 out of 133 nations on the Global Hunger Index (2019) and fairs unsatisfactorily on other indicators such as employment, income, education, and health. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges, the plight of the poor, migrants, the elderly, and disabled has increased. During the lockdown, an estimated 140 million people lost employment while salaries were cut for many others. Under the lockdown, less than 25% of India’s USD2.8 trillion economy was functional. More than half of the businesses in the country were affected.  The World Bank has predicted that India’s growth in 2021 will be the lowest in 3 decades, signaling a deep recession. The road ahead is complicated but now is the ideal time to address the underlying issues and rebuild the country to be more inclusive and economically stable.

About the author if this dispatch: Anahitaa is a knowledge manager and communications associate at Dalberg Advisors based out of New Delhi, India. Her focus at the firm lies in WASH, effective communication and climate change. She has a master’s degree in environmental policy from Sciences Po and an undergraduate degree in sociology from Delhi University.

Ethiopia

By Brook Makonnen

Posted June 19, 2020

From the get-go, 2020 has proven to be one of the most challenging years in living memory. Unprecedented economic, social and health crises have broken out throughout the developed world and the effects of COVID-19 have shattered jobs, businesses, and families. Africa is also not immune.

My country, Ethiopia, has been one of the least COVID-19 affected countries on the continent at least in terms of confirmed cases with respect to its population size. Ethiopia suffers, however, from weak health regulations and inadequate facilities. On March 13, Ethiopia reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Addis Ababa, the capital. The figures of confirmed cases have since has risen to at least a total of 3,500 with a total of over 185,000 lab tests conducted across several regional states. At least 57 deaths have been recorded so far and, according to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health, contact tracing has been extended to thousands of others for close follow-up. For a country which is deemed to be the most densely populated landlocked country on the planet, these are relatively low figures.

In April, Ethiopia declared the beginning of a five-month state of emergency. As part of the national response, an inter-ministerial task force chaired by the Prime Minister has been established and effective since the early days of the outbreak. Several rules and regulations around social distancing and related measures have also been introduced to curb the potential for community transmission of COVID-19. Effective enforcement of these measures, however, is not straightforward. Ethiopian society is fundamentally built around social gatherings and community living. In a traditional Ethiopian households, the concept of social distancing is rarely received well. In the capital Addis Ababa, however, perceptions are changing thanks to the rising figures.

One of the challenges for Ethiopia amid this pandemic is the effective establishment of fully equipped medical facilities to accommodate confirmed cases. Due to a public-private partnership set-up, hotels, residences, and entertainment arenas have slowly been refurbished into rehabilitation centers. As financial and public institutions adjust to introduce a stimulus package to leverage the looming financial crisis, moreover, private businesses are also working to save lives by saving the jobs of their employees through structural adjustments. One lesson Ethiopia has learned so far is that the health sector is in dire need of far greater support than has been received in the past. An improved health sector should aim to benefit all Ethiopians across social class and creed, which it has not in the past.

About the author of this dispatch: Brook is a human geographer by training, having specialized in environmental governance and politics. He is also an environmental and development specialist with over four years of professional experience executing agricultural and environmental programmes in Ethiopia and Kenya. He holds a Masters in Environmental Governance from the University of Manchester. 

Italy

By Dana Muresan

Posted June 19, 2020

Since April 19th, when Italy reached a peak of 108,257 active cases of the virus, the situation has seen a gradual, steady improvement. At the time of writing, on June 10th, there are 31,710 active cases, and the country has seen a total of 169,939 recoveries and 34,114 deaths.

On May 4th, after 55 days of nationwide lockdown, the country entered ‘stage two’ of its emergency response. So far, this stage has been marked by the gradual reopening of many businesses, parks, and museums, and the freedom to move for work or to visit relatives and friends.

While many Italians breathe a sigh of relief, the road to a new normal is bound to be as complicated as the one that has led the country to this point, confused by layers of sometimes conflicting communications from national and regional governing bodies.

This is especially the case in Lombardy – the country’s hardest hit region that currently sees more than half of the active cases in Italy.

The regional council in Lombardy has been accused of mismanaging the situation. On May 29th, citizens gathered in Milan to demand the resignation of the council’s leaders. The region’s legislative body has also been accused of prioritizing the economy over the welfare of citizens, of not providing adequate testing, and of providing inaccurate and misleading numbers.

The country has already seen more than a 5% decrease in GDP since the beginning of the year. The government will be put to the test in the coming months, as it will have to balance the health and welfare of its citizens and the restart of its fragile economy. In the meantime, many are unsure about what lies ahead with the beginning of stage three on June 15th, which will see the reopening of cinemas, theaters, bars, and night clubs.

About the author of this dispatch: Dana is specialised in European Studies with a focus on identity and integration, having studied these topics at the University of Toronto, Sciences Po Paris, and Universiteit van Amsterdam. She is particularly interested in cross-cultural integration and the relationship between individual and collective identities. She currently lives in Milan, Italy, where she works as a consultant and editor in the field of change management. 

Ecuador

By Adrianna Navarrete

Posted June 19, 2020

Nightmarish images of people dying on the streets of Ecuador’s most populous city, Guayaquil, haunted people around the world. The reality was even scarier for us Ecuadorians, especially the most vulnerable. The complete crash of the healthcare system, and skyrocketing death rates were compounded by a large-scale economic crisis that was already underway when the pandemic began due to economic readjustments by the government last year to receive an IMF loan. 

While official numbers have yet to be released, countless businesses were forced to shut or lay off their employees due to the 75-day countrywide shutdown, leaving many unemployed. Other government measures intended to save the economy were insufficient. The so-called Humanitarian Law allowed enterprises to reduce their employees’ wages by 45 percent and to cut their hours by 50 percent. Certain governmental enterprises were privatized and large cuts were made to education funding.  Protests and riots broke out in the old town of Quito in response to these measures, but they were quickly suppressed following a decree to allow the use of force by both the military and national police.

On June 3rd, the lockdown ended and a new phase of social distancing began. Stores, public transportation and restaurants are now operating at half their capacity, and remote working is still being prioritized. After just a few days of the second phase, however, it became clear that the government’s social distancing measures are not practical or effective, especially for those who need to leave their homes to earn a living.

The risk of falling ill is scary, but the certainty of suffering from poverty and hunger is terrifying.

About the author of this dispatch: Ecuadorian social entrepreneur, Adrianna holds a masters degree in International Migration and Ethnic relations from Malmö University and is active in the development of sustainable tourism techniques in rural Ecuador and Galápagos Islands. In addition, she contributes as a volunteer medical translator in Amazonian indigenous communities, and disaster relief project development in various Latin American countries. 

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

U.S. vs. China? Cooperation in Telecommunications in East Africa

mai 3, 2022 Non classé

Some Western political strategists suggest a “Tech Cold War” is playing out in Africa between China and the U.S. Based on case studies from Ethiopia and Kenya, this perspective neglects the actual state of affairs. Instead of searching for “China-free” actors, the West should take the rationale of each project as a yardstick to stay engaged and relevant in the emerging African information and communications technology sector.

Jonas Pauly

Devolved Governance: Enhancing the Resilience of Cities

mars 9, 2022 Non classé

This article explores the advantages of devolved governance in city planning instead of a centralized approach. Transferring decision-making power from central government to the local level can equip cities with the flexibility to respond to critical policy areas such sustainable infrastructure and quality social housing.

Julian Baxter

Achieving Integration for Immigrants in Iceland

novembre 10, 2021 Non classé

Despite introducing ground-breaking social policies, Iceland lacks a cohesive approach to ensure the successful integration of immigrants. This group is left unprotected against hidden discrimination in the housing, employment, and education sectors. The successful integration of immigrants should involve treating them as agents of positive change in society.

Jordi Cortes

The Policy Corner

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