Global report: Covid risks ‘generational catastrophe’ warns UN

Brazil president’s chief of staff tests positive; Trump says US ‘doing well’; record fines in Australia for not isolating

Photo : IANS

The United Nations has warned of a “generational catastrophe” because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on education, as Latin America surpassed five million Covid-19 cases – or nearly 30% of global infections.

The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, said the world was at a “defining moment” with the world’s children and young people. He said the decisions governments took during the pandemic over education would have lasting impacts on hundreds of millions and on the development prospects of countries for decades to come.

Guterres said that as of mid-July schools were closed in 160 countries, affecting more than 1 billion students, while at least 40 million children had missed out on pre-school. This came on top of more than 250 million children already being out of school before the pandemic and only a quarter of secondary school students in developing countries leaving with basic skills.

“We face a generational catastrophe that would undermine decades of progress and exacerbate intrenched inequalities,” he said, warning of “deeply concerning” knock-on effects on child nutrition, child marriage and gender equality.

The warnings came as Guterres launched a new campaign titled “Save our future” calling for action on reopening schools once local transmission is under control, and prioritising financing for education.

Brazil has continued to drive the regional surge of the virus in Latin America, with more than 2.75m infections and close to half of the 202,000 deaths. On Monday it was revealed that President Jair Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, General Walter Souza Braga Netto, had tested positive for Covid-19. Last week Bolsonaro’s wife tested positive, following the president’s infection in early July.

In the region’s second hardest-hit country, Peru, daily cases have almost doubled from 3,300 to 6,300 since bus and air travel resumed a month ago, according to official figures.

Mexico has racked up record numbers of new confirmed infections in recent days, registering more than 9,000 daily cases for the first time on Saturday, a day after overtaking Britain as the country with the third-highest number of deaths in the pandemic.

Global infections stood at more than 18.1m, with the US responsible for 4.7m, or around 26% of infections worldwide. Despite that figure Donald Trump said his country was doing “as well as any nation”. He rejected the idea of a national lockdown to bring the virus under control and called for schools to be reopened. The rolling seven-day average of new cases in the US has trended down slightly and now sits at 60,488 per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“It’s important for all Americans to recognise that a permanent lockdown is not a viable path forward and would ultimately inflict more harm than it would prevent. Lockdowns do not prevent infection in the future,” Trump said.

Trump’s assertions followed a stark warning from the World Health Organization chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, that there may never be an effective Covid-19 vaccine. “A number of vaccines are now in phase three clinical trials and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help [protect] people from infection,” Tedros said.

“However there’s no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be.”

Speaking in Geneva, he said that for now stopping outbreaks would come down to the basics of public health and disease control.

“Testing, isolating and treating patients, and tracing and quarantining their contacts. Do it all,” he said. “Inform, empower and listen to communities. Do it all.”

In Australia, the state of Victoria recorded another 439 cases and 11 deaths, all in aged care settings, the day after the premier, Daniel Andrews, announced a six-week lockdown with much more significant restrictions including a night-time curfew in the state capital, Melbourne, for the next six weeks, the closure of non-essential businesses, and a ban on weddings.

Andrews introduced significant fines for people not self-isolating when directed to do so. He said that of 3,000 people doorknocked, around 800 were not at home when they should have been. Anyone caught in those circumstances could be fined up to A$5,000 (US$3,500) – the largest on-the-spot fine on the state’s statute books.

“If there were repeat breaches, if there were particularly selfish behaviour like, for instance, going to work when you had the virus, then there is the alternative pathway and that is, of course, taking you to the magistrates’ court, where the maximum penalty that can be applied to you is $20,000,” Andrews said.