The FINANCIAL -- As the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the length and breadth of Asia and the Pacific, finance ministries are continuing their relentless efforts to inject trillions of dollars for emergency health responses and fiscal packages. With continued lockdown measures and restricted borders, economic rebound seems uncertain.  Compared to 2019’s economic situation, over the past six months, countries in Asia and the Pacific have been experiencing sharp drops in foreign exchange inflows due to declines in export earnings, remittances, tourism and FDI. This is worrying as policymakers are tackling difficult choices over how to prioritize development spending, while continuing to expand their squeezed fiscal space.

Is there a connection between the corona crisis and the protests in response to the murder of George Floyd by police officers?  Well certainly one can’t prove causality.  But I do believe the pandemic has served as a microscope on festering social ills, inequities, and discrimination in U.S. society, just as Floyd’s killing has highlighted institutional racism. The pandemic put into sharp focus the fact that many Americans work paycheck to paycheck, gig to gig.  They are a broad mix of servers, retail workers, musicians, travel agents, babysitters, fast food cooks, etc. For man, losing a job in February can mean eviction in March.  America lacks robust social safety nets, unemployment insurance, let alone a decent minimum wage to allow workers to accumulate savings.  Americans also lack universal healthcare so once unemployed, often lose health insurance.  “Shelter in place” in itself embodies privilege.  Working from home is a luxury, and for the unemployed, staying home requires savings.   So the pandemic is not the “great equalizer” some have touted.  It is unequal in its impact, hurting the waitress more than the hedge fund manager, and ballooning the population of the poor and vulnerable. 

As lockdowns ease in countries across Asia and the Pacific in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is clear—a return to business as usual is unimaginable in a region that was already off track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The virtual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development recently convened governments and stakeholders across the globe to focus on the imperative to build back better while keeping an eye on the Global Goals.

Memories of idyllic beaches and sonorous waves may seem far away while we remain at home. Yet, we need not look far to appreciate the enduring history of the ocean in Asia and the Pacific. For generations, the region has thrived on our seas. Our namesake bears a nod to the Pacific Ocean, a body of water tethered to the well-being of billions in our region. The seas provide food, livelihoods and a sense of identity, especially for coastal communities in the Pacific island States.

The objective of the exercise was not to assess the relevancy of the plan and/or recommend alternative ways to rescue the troubled economy, but to check that the numbers add up and government spending directed towards revival of the economy and supporting vulnerable groups of the population is close to what they announced during the 24 April presentation.

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