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Slow down lockdown to give vulnerable groups a relief

People leave Kathmandu for their home during the lockdown, in April 2020.

The first cases of Covid-19 were reported in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Four months later, over 3 million people across the world are infected with the virus causing more than nearly 210,000 deaths.

Although the virus spreads indiscriminately, certain groups are disproportionately impacted. These include those already marginalised by structural barriers and gender inequalities before the pandemic: older persons, women (including pregnant women) and girls, persons living with disabilities, caregivers, and migrant and informal sector workers.

This differential impact is due to epidemiological or socioeconomic factors, or a combination of the two. Older people and people with underlying health conditions may have weakened immune systems, putting them at a higher risk of severe complications. Lack of access to necessary medication and health care can endanger people with an ongoing illness or pregnant women. Many of the 690 million persons living with a disability in the Asia-Pacific region already have more health care needs than others. Low-quality or inaccessible health-care services, particularly in situations of partial or complete lockdown, can increase their vulnerability.

Women are more likely to have limited access to economic and social services compounding their vulnerability to the disease like other disasters. They are also more likely to carry out unpaid work of varied sectors. The pandemic is highly likely to negatively impact their livelihoods and dramatically increase their unpaid care work.

Around 65 per cent of working women in the Asia-Pacific region are in the informal employment sector and rely on daily work to survive. Further, women constitute over two-thirds of workers in the health and social sectors globally, placing them on the frontlines of the pandemic response, but with a persistent gender pay gap and fewer leadership positions than their male counterparts.

In addition, Asia-Pacific is home to over 60 per cent of the global urban population. Many of the region’s cities are highly congested, leading to a higher likelihood of infection because of the difficulties of physical distancing. The region accounts for around 65 per cent of the global slum population, which typically have limited access to facilities including healthcare.

Throughout the region, countries are taking measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and mitigate the socio-economic impact. While doing so, efforts must be made to ensure that such measures do not have unintended negative consequences on highly marginalised groups. Existing social constructs – such as discrimination, abuse, and inequality – are further exacerbated in times of crises, requiring targeted measures to protect those most at risk.

As a non-industrially developed country, Nepal is going to face social and economic damages that need a lot of time to recover. Before we face food scarcity, the government should slow down the lockdown in close areas, where any outsider entry or activity must be restricted. A swift, simultaneous, and sequenced implementation of special policies on health and social protection, finance, agriculture, industry, and trade should be ensured to make citizens’ lives smooth.

In this crisis, one simple truth has become absolutely clear: we – all of us – depend on each other. Narrow self-interest will not help us; certainly, the solidarity will. We need to stand together – as a society and as a global community. Viruses do not discriminate against anyone on the basis of nationality or income. They attack humanity. International cooperation is essential in effectively managing this pandemic and its economic fallout to save the societies globally.

Baral is a student leader.

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Baral is a student leader.

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