United Nations report: Economic downturn from virus could kill hundreds of thousands of kids

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UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK, N.Y.- While politicians in the United States are primarily concerned with the health implications of doing a measured, calculated, smart reopening of segments of the US economy, the United Nations warned on Thursday that there may also be further implications of the pandemic.

They said the economic fallout which could result in the death of hundreds of thousands of children worldwide.

Reuters said the UN noted that in a risk report, nearly 369 million children across 143 countries worldwide typically rely on schools for meals, which provide a “reliable source of daily nutrition.”

Now, with schools shuttered across the US and in parts of the world, meals need to be found elsewhere.

“We must act now on each of these threats to our children,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

“Leaders must do everything in their power to cushion the impact of the pandemic. What started as a public health emergency has snowballed into a formidable test for the global promise to leave no one behind.”

COVID-19 has infected over 2 million people worldwide and has been responsible for over 138,000 deaths in 213 countries and territories, Reuters reported.

The impact on the virus is less severe on children, and they are more likely to have a milder illness compared with older adults, according to U.S. authorities.

However, the U.N. is warning that “economic hardship experienced by families as a result of the global economic downturn could result in hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths in 2020, reversing the last 2 to 3 years of progress in reducing infant mortality within a single year.”

Worldwide, over a billion people have been advised to remain home, and the International Monetary Fund is predicting that the globe would suffer its steepest economic downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Fox News noted that the UN estimated between 42 million to 66 million children could end up in extreme poverty as a result of the pandemic, adding that number to 386 million already in extreme poverty last year.

The UN report noted that 188 countries had closed schools nationwide, which has affected over 1.5 billion children.

“The potential losses that may accrue in learning for today’s young generation, and for the development of their human capital, are hard to fathom,” the U.N. said.

“More than two-thirds of countries have introduced a national distance learning platform, but among low-income countries the share is only 30 percent.”

Meanwhile, CNBC is reporting that researchers are saying the COVID-19 pandemic may have long-term emotional effects on a global scale.

In the case of the current pandemic, people have seen combined mental health stressors that have shown themselves before in other disasters, however they have never been experienced all at one time on such a large scale, according to experts in trauma psychology.

The current crisis has put millions out of work, left many more people in isolation and left people with a sense of vulnerability not felt before.

There is no light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak and nobody can answer directly how long this will go on for. Also, with a vaccine likely being over a year away, it has added to the anxiety people are feeling.

“The scale of this outbreak as a traumatic event is almost beyond comprehension,” said Yuval Neria, director of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and a professor of psychology at Columbia University Medical Center.

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In looking for a precedent that compares to the current situation, Neria said that not even the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks or World War II offered adequate comparisons, noting that in those cases the inherent anxiety was limited mostly by geography.

“There are no boundaries,” in the case of COVID-19, he said.

A researcher who studies trauma and disaster mental health said there is research on how people cope with quarantine, mass disasters, and ongoing stressors, however not on all three at the same time.

“This is a mass community disaster, but it is also a little bit like terrorism in that the fear component is there, ongoing fear,” said Elana Newman, who researches trauma and disaster mental health at the University of Tulsa.

As of Sunday, there were over 2.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with just over 165,000 deaths. In the United States, there are over 750,000 confirmed cases, with just over 40,000 deaths, with over 25% of those deaths being in New York City.

The pandemic has also taken a toll on people’s wallets, with the stock market diving, people losing their retirement nest eggs, and millions of Americans on unemployment.

While the economy will likely bounce back, that will not make up for people who were looking to retire in the next several years who have seen their retirement funds evaporate. People may also be a bit gun shy in putting money back into the economy.

Peter Atwater, a behavioral economist at William & Mary College in Virginia says that the hopes of a so-called “V-shaped” recovery may be overblown, since the psychological impact of the financial crash are not being accounted for.

“You can open it up. But this is not a field of dreams. You can build it, but they might not come.”

He noted that as a result of the crisis, consumers who may be “emotionally scarred” are likely to spend less and save more—what he referred to as a type of “Great Depression mindset.”

“There were no skid marks—the car went straight into the wall,” Atwater said. “That sense of vulnerability will be quite lasting.”

The executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance told CNBC that he was concerned that “anxiety and fear from the virus could outlast the pandemic itself, possibly prolonging the economic woes saddling the industry and the city.” Andrew Rigie said that he hoped that such anxiety would not “override human nature’s pull to bring us together.”

Newman also noted that people who are either financially hit by the crisis, or those who lose a loved one are most susceptible to enduring psychological trauma, as well as those who already had mental health problems.

“What we know from mass disasters is that the people who have experienced direct interpersonal loss have a harder time bouncing back,” she said.

There is also the issue of first responders and those on the front lines. Researchers at Peking University in Beijing, China (if they can be trusted, but it sounds reasonable) wrote in February in The Lancet, a highly-regarded medical journal, that mental health issues experienced by those on the front lines of the pandemic “could exceed the consequences” of the virus itself.

Trauma experts also have said that new research has shown that “even those who are not directly affected by the crisis are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“After 9/11, we had the first indication that even people who were not directly exposed to trauma, but spent many hours in front of the television or looking at their smartphones were at high risk for psychopathology, including PTSD, depression and anxiety,” Neria said.

Experts noted that social media is a good source for information which can cause anxiety and increase the chances of PTSD. People who binge on social media either before bed or during isolation are especially vulnerable.

Newman said it is important to stay in touch with friends and family members and take control of those things within your abilities.

The best thing is to keep busy.

“How can you feel good about yourself in this situation? Can you volunteer virtually? Checking up on your neighbor, doing something for your community, for your family, for someone,” she said.


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