Novel coronavirus adds insult to injury in poor countries
2020-04-05 14:10

The new coronavirus is causing havoc in rich countries. Often overlooked is the damage it will cause in poor ones, which could be even worse. Official data do not begin to tell the story. As of March 25th Africa had reported only 2,800 infections so far; India, only 650. But the virus is in nearly every country and will surely spread. There is no vaccine. There is no cure. A very rough guess is that, without a campaign of social distancing, between 25% and 80% of a typical population will be infected. Of these, perhaps 4.4% will be seriously sick and a third of those will needintensive care. For poor places, this implies calamity.

新型冠状病毒正在富裕国家肆虐,但人们常常忽视它会给贫穷国家造成的伤害,而情况往往可能更糟糕。官方数据现在并不能很好地展现真正的情况。截至3月25日,非洲仅报告了2800例感染。 而印度只有650例。但是该病毒现在几乎传遍每个国家,而且肯定会继续传播。没有疫苗。没有治愈方法。一个非常粗略的猜测是,如果不进行社会隔离,将有25%至80%的典型人群会受到感染。其中,可能有4.4%的人患有严重疾病,其中三分之一需要重症监护。 而对于贫穷的地方来说,这意味着灾难。

Social distancing is practically impossible if you live in a crowded slum. Hand-washing is hard if you have no running water. Governments may tell people not to go out to work, but if that means their families will not eat, they will go out anyway. If prevented, they may riot.


So covid-19 could soon be all over poor countries. And their health-care systems are in no position to cope. Many cannot deal with the infectious diseases they already know, let alone a new and highly contagious one. Health spending per head in Pakistan is one two-hundredth the level in America. Uganda has more government ministers than intensive-care beds. Throughout history, the poor have been hardest-hit by pandemics. Most people who die of aids are African. The Spanish flu wiped out 6% of India’s entire population.


Dozens of developing countries have ordered lockdowns. India has announced a “total ban” on leaving home for 21 days (see Asia section). South Africa has deployed the army to help enforce one. They may slow the disease, but they are unlikely to stop it. 


Granted, there are some reasons for hope. Poor countries are young—the median age in Africa is under 20—and the young appear less likely to die from an infection. The poorest are very rural: two-thirds of people in countries with incomes per head below $1,000 a year live in the countryside, compared with less than a fifth in rich countries. Farmers can grow yams without breathing viral droplets on each other. The climate may help. It is possible, though far from certain, that hot weather slows the spread of covid-19. 


Alas, even the good news comes with caveats. People in poor countries may be young, but they often have weak lungs or immune systems, because of malnutrition, tuberculosis or hiv. Lockdowns will be hard to sustain unless governments can provide a generous safety-net. Firms need credit to avoid laying off staff. Informal workers need cash to tide them over. Unfortunately, poor countries do not have the financial muscle to provide these things, and covid-19 has just made it much harder.

但是,这个好消息还伴随着警告。贫穷国家的人们可能还很年轻,但是由于营养不良,结核病或艾滋病毒,他们的肺部或免疫系统往往很弱。 除非政府能够提供一张广阔的安全网,否则很难维持封锁。企业需要信贷以避免裁员。非正式工人需要现金来度过难关。不幸的是,贫穷国家没有财力来提供这些东西,而covid-19则让情况雪上加霜。

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