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Flattening the curve or flattening the global poor? How Covid lockdowns obliterate human rights and crush the most vulnerable

Marketed as life-saving public health measures, lockdowns triggered death and economic devastation on a global scale while doing little to slow the spread of Covid-19. Now, they’re back with a vengeance.
by Stavroula Pabst and Max Blumenthal
Part 4 - Lockdowns drive debt, dependency and death across the Global South
The legacy of colonialism and imperialism has split the world economy into a “core” of wealthy economies and a periphery of poor economies that are largely dependent on exporting cheap raw materials and low-value added manufactured goods. When the wealthy core economies locked down in 2020, international trade contracted, triggering a violent economic whiplash in developing countries as their earnings from exports and tourism suddenly collapsed.

As a result, developing country debt has risen from an average of about 40 percent of overall GDP to over 60 percent. Throughout 2020, developing economies were forced to pay out 194 billion to their creditors, even as their economies contracted dramatically. This forced poor countries to cut deeply into social spending to maintain debt servicing from institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, the IMF has doled out “Covid funds” to 85 countries around the world. An analysis by Oxfam found that 85% of the 107 loans provided to these countries require them to impose austerity until well into the future to pay them back. Now, devastating impacts on future health and social spending in poor countries is practically inevitable.

With surging unemployment, reduced incomes, and fewer social services, the populations of poor countries in the Global South have experienced massive increases in hunger.

As early as July 2020, the Associated Press reported that an additional 10,000 children were dying of hunger every month “due to the virus.” In fact, the deaths were the result of governments’ choice to lock down. Indeed, the coronavirus has had very little effect on the health of children, except indirectly through bad policy. Thus, millions of children across the Global South who were not hungry in 2019 are hungry today because of the lockdowns.

In all, about 2.37 billion people – or about 30 percent of the world population and 320 million more people than in the previous year – did not have access to adequate food at some point during 2020

As Nash Landesman reported for The Grayzone, extensive lockdowns with little social support by the US-backed government of Colombia led to mass unemployment, evictions, and widespread hunger throughout 2020, especially in working class neighborhoods of Bogotá, where residents placed red flags outside their homes to signal their sense of despair. 

Mexicans similarly protested lockdown measures, with one vendor affixing a sign to her stall reading: “Mexico is NOT Europe. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.

And in Honduras, which has been ruled for over a decade by a corrupt US-backed government installed through a military coup, citizens facing food and water shortages due to lockdown took to the streets in protest in March 2020, encountering heavy police repression. The protests continued into September, with drivers blocking roads to demand compensation for wages lost during the forced quarantine. 

In India, meanwhile, where GDP shrank a record 7.3 percent from March 2020 to March 2021, a study of Uttar Pradesh state households found incomes contracting about 75 percent. Anthropologist Dr. Chandana Mathur of Maynooth University reported that the strict, yet poorly planned lockdowns in India kept millions of migrant workers away from income sources, forcing them into homes that were thousands of kilometers away from work or simply non-existent.

Just two days before the March 2020 lockdown, many transportation services in India ground to a halt, stranding and starving thousands of people at a time when strict stay-at-home rules were declared. To enforce the orders, police brutally beat those considered insufficiently compliant. One estimate found that about 1,000 people died from March to July 2020 due to the displacement.

In fact, mass suffering was anticipated by some governments and experts when the restrictions began. In March 2020, a cost-benefit analysis by the Dutch government’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy concluded health damage from lockdown would be six times greater than the benefit. Similarly, a 2020 Actuarial Society of South Africa model posited that a lockdown in the country may lead to 29 times more deaths than the restrictions can prevent.

And indeed, when lockdowns and other stringent interventions were applied in South Africa, many suffered enormously. Researchers estimate that 47 percent of South Africans ran out of money for food in April 2020. While rates of deprivation have decreased, estimates of hunger in the country remained steady at 17 percent of households throughout April and May 2021. 

South Africans also faced a decrease in overall life expectancy due to other restriction-perpetuated factors, such as an increase in HIV and tuberculosis related health issues thanks to treatment stoppages, outbreaks of other infectious diseases especially associated with malnutrition, poverty and suspension of relevant vaccination programs, and interruptions in maternal and infant care.

Despite such excessive restrictions in the country, which previously included a curfew, a ban on gatherings and even on alcohol sales, some estimates found that 80 percent of South Africans were still infected with COVID-19. 

A recently published study by researchers at the University of Johannesburg and the University of the Free State, COVID-19 in South Africa, found that “no changes in the shape of the [epidemiological] curve can be attributed to the introduction or easing of any regulation at [the current time].

Instead of flattening the proverbial curve, restrictions induced economic and social deterioration which killed millions in the name of public health, while depriving an entire generation of the global poor of the right to education.


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