COVID-19 Recovery Must Deliver Universal Health Insurance, Safety Nets and Affordable Internet Access, says UNDP


Governments must dramatically overhaul policies and invest in public health, economic stimulus, and social safety nets, to help countries recover faster from the COVID-19 pandemic, says a new report from the UN Development Programme. 

The economic report warns that a patchwork of preexisting solutions won’t work and points out that governments must coordinate with each other to hasten the recovery. This is a global crisis and working in silos is not an option, it says.

The report: “Position Note on the Social and Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Asia-Pacific,” calls on countries in the region to avoid returning to the pre-pandemic environmentally unsustainable development path, and to capitalize on the opportunity to build a better future.

It argues for a new human rights-based, just and fair social contract between governments and people, and advocates for social safety nets with a broader reach, universal health insurance, and affordable access to digital connectivity, as the new normal.

“While we must focus on the immediate needs of a health crisis, the accompanying economic and social crises also need urgent attention. These feed on pre-pandemic vulnerabilities that will be a fire hard to contain, if not addressed together,” said Kanni Wignaraja, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific. “Bold proposals in this report address the multiple shocks together, by proposing a different set of choices today to build a different tomorrow.”

While both crises are exacting a huge human toll, with a heavy burden and crisis of care falling disproportionately on the shoulders of women, the report calls on governments and businesses to invest in building more sustainable and resilient supply chains and to foster circular and sharing economies, which will allow us to tread lighter on the environment and ecosystems, according to the report.

The report contributes to the UN’s work that supports the socio-economic recovery from the pandemic in Asia and the Pacific. It calls for policies and actions that immediately strengthen health systems, to save lives and prevent the spread of the virus. And advocates for the rapid expansion of social protection measures, to sustain incomes, especially for the most affected and vulnerable. Regular public communication of measures taken is a must to strengthen trust of people in government, the report adds.

Governments will need huge resources to bolster public health, for the economic stimulus, and for social safety nets, which will place an enormous strain on budgets. To meet that challenge, the report asks governments to revise priorities reflected in budget revenue, spending and financing. Budget revisions may be painful but are necessary, to meet this emergency and to contain fiscal deficits and surges in public debt, at manageable levels.

Given the deeply interconnected nature of the world, the report stresses that the twin global emergencies, the pandemic and the economic crisis, require a global response. Global coordination and solidarity are needed to chart a shared sustainable and resilient development path, as no country will be able to pull this off on its own.

A key step is to collaboratively resolve the long-standing issue of so called ‘fiscal termites’ that undermine national budgets: tax competition, tax evasion via transfer pricing and tax havens, large fossil fuel subsidies, and finding ways to tax the digital economy.

Further steps include restarting trade in goods, even as borders are closed for people – starting from essential goods such as medical supplies and food; and effectively coordinating the movement of stranded migrants and refugees.