The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday cut its 2021 economic growth forecast for Asia to 6.5 per cent, citing “new peaks of the pandemic cycle.” Many countries in the region have reported record coronavirus-related deaths and case numbers in the months since the IMF’s April forecast of around 7.5-per-cent growth for this year. “The pandemic’s resurgence has triggered lockdowns that are hampering the recovery,” the IMF said, in its latest Asia-focused economic outlook. Despite the impact of the virus and the harsh restrictions applied in countries such as Australia and Malaysia, Asia is nonetheless is likely to remain the world’s fastest-growing region, the IMF said, while warning that the pandemic is widening a “divide” between the region’s advanced economies and their “emerging” or “developing” counterparts.
While the coronavirus pandemic upended state spending plans and left economies reeling, its impact is likely to pale in comparison to challenges such as ageing populations, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Paris-based group’s secretariat said on Tuesday that before the pandemic, governments were facing health spending rises of over two percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP) between now and 2060 and around the same for pensions in countries with what the OECD labelled “unfavourable demographics.” By comparison, recently accrued government debt to pay for pandemic-related social and health spending is likely to add “only about 1/2 percentage point of GDP to long-run fiscal pressure in the median country,” according to the OECD.
The number of deaths from tuberculosis (TB) increased last year for the first time in a decade, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, putting the number at 1.5 million. The WHO blamed the rise on disruptions to health care during the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO’s annual report on TB, a preventable and curable disease, said the pandemic and related curbs had “reversed years of global progress” and warned that TB deaths could be “much higher” again this year and next. In 2020, the Geneva-based WHO said, “more people died from TB, with far fewer people being diagnosed and treated or provided with TB preventive treatment compared with 2019,” when around 1.4 million deaths from the bacterial respiratory disease were recorded.
Some countries have seemingly seen the worst of the coronavirus and have lifted many lockdown restrictions, and yet pandemic news can still “ruin a person’s mood” in just minutes, according to British and Canadian researchers. In a paper published in PLOS One, a medical journal, academics from the University of Essex and Simon Fraser University reported so-called “doomscrolling” through pandemic news shared on social media to be “one of the least enjoyable activities in a day.” That’s hardly a surprise, given that such stories have been a seemingly relentless drumbeat of daily case numbers and deaths, as well as updates about “government regulations and lifestyle restrictions.”
The first year of the coronavirus pandemic saw a “stark rise” in mental health disorders, with around 160 million additional cases worldwide, according to estimates by doctors and scientists in Australia and the US. The findings suggest an “additional 53 million cases of major depressive disorder and 76 million cases of anxiety disorders” in 2020, increases of more than a quarter that were “due to the pandemic,” according to the team, which was led by researchers from the University of Queensland and University of Washington. The biggest jumps were in countries with the highest incidences of the virus or the severest restrictions on social and economic activity.
Singapore-based scientists have come up with a device that detects coronavirus in the air of indoor spaces, raising the prospect of “airborne surveillance” of the virus to supplement testing of individuals. The air-sampling method means “early warning of infection risks” could be possible in hospital wards and nursing homes, and could boost virus-monitoring capabilities in public places where people gather indoors, such as restaurants and cinemas.
The coronavirus pandemic has worsened a “grim” economic outlook for the world’s poorest countries, UN trade officials believe, with many likely to be “mired” in crises for years to come. An “emerging two-speed global recovery” from the pandemic and related restrictions, which last year caused most countries’ economies to shrink, could “reverse many hard-won development gains,” the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) warned on Monday.
Around three-quarters of the world’s people with diabetes cannot get the treatment they need, according to the University of Birmingham in Britain, which warned of “huge drop-offs” in care worldwide. Around 80 per cent of the world’s approximately 420 million diabetes sufferers live in so-called low and middle-income countries, but “fewer than 6 per cent of these individuals can access the care they need to manage their diabetes and prevent long-term complications like heart attacks, strokes, kidney diseases or blindness,” the researchers estimated.
Research and development (R&D) spending in booming sectors such as software and pharmaceuticals has increased since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, while transport and travel, which have been hit hard by the pandemic, have reported falling outlays. Overall spending was up, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which said that “scientific output, expenditures in research and development, intellectual property filings and venture capital deals continued to grow” last year after a record-setting 2019. WIPO had earlier reported an “all-time high” number of patent filings for 2020, describing the record on Monday as “driven by medical technology, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.”
Governments need to “rethink global travel restrictions,” according to the Singapore-based secretariat of the 21-country Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) bloc, which described the pandemic-related curbs as “chaotic.” The frontier rules “are not consistent,” the secretariat said on Wednesday, leading to “even essential travel” becoming “more cumbersome” and “more exclusive” than it has been for decades.