Impact of COVID-19 on sustainable development A way forward

Nusrat Jafrin, Muhammad Mehedi Masud, and Abu Naser Mohammad Saif

5.1 Introduction

Almost every country in the world is currently in a state of emergency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was first identified in Wuhan, China, on 2 December 2019 (Abdi, 2020). Subsequently, this virus became widespread around the world, with the number of infected cases increasing day by day. Essentially, humans are infected through close contact with a symptomatic person exhibiting coughing and sneezing. This is because the coronavirus spreads via respirator}' airborne transmission and when inhaled, the lungs are infected and they become inflamed (Kumar et al., 2020). In recognition of the gravity of this virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the emergence of the novel coronavirus a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ on 30 January 2020 (Eurosurveillance, 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic implies great challenges for individuals, families, communities, and societies across the world. As of 25 April 2020, the total number of infected people globally was 2,719,897, with the number of deaths amounting to 187,705 (WHO, 2020). Daily activities have been altered, and economies might as well plunge into recession. The traditional, social, economic, and public health safety nets on which numerous people rely during times of hardship have been subjected to an unprecedented strain (WHO, 2020).

There is no clear forecast for the end of COVID-19 worldwide, and as a result, it is predicted that the whole world will experience great economic losses. For instance, job loss is recognized as a common phenomenon during this pandemic, regardless of the country. This is not a farfetched idea as world trade has dropped drastically, and the production of various products has ground to a halt except for the agricultural sector, which, of course, is a clear consequence of the lockdown. Besides, the economic situation is deteriorating even further for low-income and lower-middle-income countries. A large number of workers in the informal sector have become unemployed due to the closure of their workplaces. Therefore, it follows that if COVID-19 is not contained soon, temporar}' unemployment will transform into long-term unemployment. To make matters worse, workers in underdeveloped countries lack adequate health services and social protection. Migrant workers are severely affected during this emergency, resulting in the reduction of remittances to their country of origin.

No similar model exists for affected people around the world in terms of age group. Although senior citizens have been reported to be more vulnerable to being severely affected by the virus compared with younger people, data from other countries have revealed otherwise. In addition to the age factor, the severity of COVID-19 also depends on the patient’s health history. However, nowadays, many infected patients do not exhibit any symptoms, which is quite disturbing. Global data indicate that positive cases of patients with coronavirus also vary in terms of gender. For instance, in developing countries, men tend to be more affected by the virus owing to the time they spend outside the home compared with women.

Due to the lockdown, women, children, and the elderly are now vulnerable to domestic violence more than ever. This situation takes a dangerous toll on the vulnerable in terms of their physical and mental health. As a result, many marriages have broken down during this period of the pandemic. In addition to that, unreported domestic violence cases have surged in low-income countries as no clear procedure established to ascertain the validity of claims of domestic violence. Besides, regulations on movement have also affected religious practices for all religions - people are not allowed to go to mosques, churches, pagodas, and temples to perform their religious activities - which ultimately affects the lives of human beings and their spirituality due to their lack of familiarity with this type of restriction. Therefore, this article aims to review the effects of CO VID-19 on the economy, domestic violence, demographics, and religious practices with relevant information from various secondary sources.

5.2 Conceptual framework

In order to conceptualize this study, the following conceptual framework was developed based on the literature review. The framework indicates that COVID-19 has impacted three pillars of sustainable development. This certainly will impede the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Therefore, in order to achieve the SDGs by 2030, after the COVID-19 pandemic, a new business model will be required, as shown in Figure 5.1.

Post-COVID-19 pandemic new business model. Source

Figure 5.1 Post-COVID-19 pandemic new business model. Source: Author’s own.

  • 5.3 Findings and discussion
  • 5.3.1 CO VID-19 and its economic impact

COVID-19 is likely to have significant economic consequences since the virus is widespread on a global scale (Fornaro & Wolf, 2020). According to Duffin (2020), COVID-19 has had an alarming effect on the world economy. For instance, Singapore, which is one of the developed countries in the world with a high per capita income, is now experiencing an appalling gross domestic product contraction of 10.6% in just the first quarter of the year. Tourism, one of the main sectors in Italy, is now suffering due to the pandemic, thereby exposing the country to an unprecedented gross domestic product contraction of 5% since the commencement of the lockdown.

This economic effect could become more serious than the 2008 global financial crisis, and the Great Depression that occurred in the 1930s. The possible results of this virus are the loss of skilled and experienced workers, a reduction in the supply of labour, the loss of key personnel and activists, a slowdown in the manufacture of essential products, the disruption of the product supply chain, losses in domestic and international businesses, poor cash flow in the market, and a significant slowdown in revenue growth (Abodunrin et al., 2020; Haleem et al., 2020; Nicola et al., 2020). It is envisaged that COVID-19 will also contribute to the level of penury, as well as unemployment. For instance, the stock markets have collapsed as a result of the pandemic by a minimum of 50%, resulting in a corresponding halt in the credit market. Moreover, unemployment rates soared above 10% as well with global gross domestic product contracting at an annualised rate of 10% or more (Roubini, 2020; Abodunrin et al., 2020). COVID-19 appears to be the major factor leading to an increase in the rate of poverty and unemployment as the rate of unemployment has soared beyond the 10% mark (Abodunrin et al., 2020). All the components of aggregate demand such as consumption, capital expenditure, and exports are in an unprecedented freefall, which subsequently indicates that the contraction currently being experienced does not appear in a V-, U-, or L-shaped curve but rather an I-shaped curve, which is a vertical line representing the financial markets and the real economy in freefall (Abodunrin et al., 2020). Decision-makers, companies, and market players are trying to revise their growth expectations in the short, medium, and long term (Gormsen & Koijen, 2020).

Quite a number of sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry, solar energy sector, information and electronics industry, aviation industry, etc., are severely affected by the pandemic (Haleem et al., 2020). China is currently in a state of turmoil, and development activities cannot continue until normality is restored. Consequently, the inflation rate keeps soaring, which is currently on the 50% mark.

Undoubtedly, China is a global economic superpower with an economy linked to all other countries of the world; however, in the wake of the pandemic, its economic growth had also plummeted to 2% compared with 6% in the past. Likewise, the virus had spread all over the world including countries that have

Impact of CO VID-19 on sustainable development 79 substantial business relations with China - South Korea, Iran, Japan, the United States, Thailand, Denmark, Ireland, etc. - which implies that the economic systems of these countries are also severely affected by COVID-19 (Khan & Faisal, 2020). According to some capital economists, China could lose up to USDS62 billion in the first quarter of the year, with the world losing USDS280 billion if no urgent global actions are taken to suppress the COVID-19 (Ayittey et al., 2020).

Apart from that, the tourism sector is currently one of the most affected sectors, as most of the infected countries banned air travel during the COVID-19 outbreak (Haleem et al., 2020). For instance, the World Travel and Tourism Council has warned that 50 million jobs in the global travel and tourism sector may be at risk (Nicola et al., 2020). The China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) has estimated that about 6.3 million Chinese tourists travelled abroad during the 2019 Lunar New Year holidays, generating a travel revenue of about $73 billion. However, the numbers dropped considerably in 2020. Due to the cancellation of Chinese tours and the decline in domestic and international travellers, the tourism industry in Vietnam is expected to lose up to $7.7 billion in the first quarter of the year. With the presence of Chinese nationals in Thailand decreasing by almost 80% in the first four months of 2020, the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) estimates that the country could lose $3.1 billion in income from services. In addition, the tourism industry' of Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, and many other countries are expected to be affected by' the pandemic (Ayittey et al., 2020). The hotel industry’ was also severely affected - for instance, revenue per available room in the United States fell to 11.6% as of 7 March 2020, while in China, the occupancy' rates dropped to 89% in late January' 2020 (Nicola et al., 2020).

In Malaysia, the unemployment rate for the year is estimated at 629,000 people, which is a 3.3% increase when compared to 2019, resulting in an estimated loss of Ringgit Malaysia (RM) 38 to 102 billion in gross domestic product when compared to the 2020 statistics. At the same time, the agricultural and services sectors in Malaysia also recorded a higher percentage of job losses (21.9% and 15.0%, respectively) when compared with other sectors (Department of Statistics, Malaysia, 2020). India’s economy is also severely' affected by' this virus because China remains India’s third-largest export partner, which could subsequently lead to a drop in the supply of organic chemicals, plastics, fishery' products, cotton, minerals, etc. (Pratheeesh & Arumugasamy, 2020). The coronavirus has had a profound impact on the aviation industry'; as a result of the foreclosures, airline operations have been suspended in all affected countries. According to IndiGo, the largest Indian airline recorded a 15% to 20% drop in daily bookings during the pandemic (Rani, 2020). However, the demand for medical supplies has considerably' increased. There is also increased demand in the food sector, which is experiencing a surge in demand due to panic purchases and food storage (Nicola et al., 2020).

COVID-19 has had a pronounced effect on e-commerce and technology. In Malaysia, many e-commerce companies rely' on China for half of its derivative products. Therefore, it is envisaged that this deadly virus will seriously affect Malaysian online businesses, especially those selling sought-after Chinese products (Hasanat et al., 2020). Despite this, for the sale of domestic products online businesses are taking off in Malaysia and other parts of the world as this is the most convenient alternative to provide selling of goods without direct physical contact.

In general, taking the loss of trade, commerce, tourism, and the main impacts on global supply chains into account, the economic impacts of the pandemic will be felt considerably in China and around the world. According to Bloomberg economists, China’s gross domestic product value in the first quarter of the year 2020 could drop to 4.5% year-on-year (Ayittey et al., 2020). Model estimates in the analysis of the expected losses in different countries of the world also predict a decrease in the world’s gross domestic product by 0.42% in the first quarter of the year 2020 due to the outbreak. Despite this, Bloomberg economists still believe that it is too early to gauge the full impact of the deadly disease just yet, as the infection is still yet to reach its peak (Ayittey et al., 2020).

5.4 COVID-19 and social impacts

A variety of violations committed in places of residence are regarded as domestic violence and it is also known as ‘domestic abuse’ or ‘intimate partner violence’ which is defined as ‘as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner’ (United Nations, n.d.). Women, children, and the elderly are most prone to domestic violence. During the lockdown period, the rate of domestic violence involving physical, emotional, and sexual abuse was found to have increased alarmingly in many countries. For instance, the UN (2020) reported that since the lockdown, domestic violence has increased in France (30%), Argentina (30%), Singapore (33%), and Cyprus (30%).

The reasons for this may include the increase in the time being spent behind closed doors, thereby exposing vulnerable people to abuse, especially when it is extremely difficult for them to reach out for help. According to The Refuge - one of the UK’s domestic abuse charities - a 25% increase in calls to its helpline was experienced during the lockdown, leading to the publication of guidelines by the UK government on the recognition and reporting of domestic violence with a list of all available services (Nicola et al., 2020).

According to Graham-Harrison et al. (2020), there is an increasing trend in domestic violence globally. For instance, violence was discovered to have increased from 40% to 50% in Brazil, while in a particular Spanish region, calls to a helpline were discovered by the government to have increased by 20% in the early days of the lockdown. In addition, when the first index case of coronavirus was detected in Cyprus, calls for help from the government increased by 30% during the same week (Bradbury-Jones & Isham, 2020). In New Zealand, the pandemic is expected to result in an even greater magnitude of domestic and sexual violence (NZFVC, n.d.). However, the incidence of domestic violence is

Impact of CO VID-19 on sustainable development 81 even worse in developing countries where domestic violence abounded before the advent of the coronavirus.

The impact of COVID-19 is unique for different age categories depending on the immune system, as well as the healthy eating habits of the population of the country in question. So far, the most affected countries - including the virus’ country, China - show that senior citizens of over the age of 80 are more likely to be infected with the virus compared to those in other age categories (Khan & Faisal, 2020). Apart from the elderly, people suffering from other underlying medical conditions are also susceptible to the virus and death. Also, men are more likely to be infected with the virus than women (Begley, 2020). According to the data from the director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR, n.d.), 68% of the total coronavirus infected cases were men while women only constituted 32% of the cases in Bangladesh.

While the highest fatality rates were recorded in people aged over 85 years, it was discovered that other infected age ranges were also hospitalized and admitted to intensive care units (Statista, 2020). In the United States, hospitalization, ICU admission, and death were prominent among senior citizens rather than their counterparts in other age categories, with the highest number of infected patients in the 20-44 age group (Statista, 2020).

Young people have been identified to be the least affected by this virus because, until mid-January, no child in Wuhan - the origin of the epidemic - had contracted COVID-19 (Begley, 2020). According to the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, there had been no deaths in the 0-9 age bracket but a 0.2% fatality rate for those aged 10-39 years. The fatality rate further rose to 3.6% in the 60-69 age group, with an 8% fatality rate among the 70-79 age group, and a 14.8% fatality among those aged 80 years and older (McCarthy, n.d.).

However, this fact (of children being the least affected by the virus) is not firmly established, as children do not show signs of illness even when infected (Begley, 2020). The World Health Organization, therefore, warns young people to take preventive measures against COVID-19 (WHO, 2020). Generally, the risk of age-related deaths likely reflects the strength or weakness of the human body’s respiratory system (Begley, 2020). However, the infected cases and fatalities in different regions were found to vary in terms of age category. A typical example is seen in South Korea and Italy, where cases of the coronavirus were higher in younger people in Korea (age 20-29), while in Italy the highest number of cases were recorded amongst the older age group (age 70-79) (Buchholz, 2020).

In Bangladesh, young men are considered most vulnerable to COVID-19, as they tend to spend most of their time outdoors. In Bangladesh, the mortality rate is also relatively high. As of 20 April 2020, according to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), 2,948 people tested positive for COVID-19, out of which 85 patients recovered and 101 died. This implies that the mortality rate is at 3.43%. Also, between 8 March and 20 April 2020, 70% of the 15-54 age group had confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 8% of the 0-15 age group had confirmed cases of Covid-19 (WHO, 2020).

Religious practices were affected in all regions during the pandemic due to the temporar}' suspension of all gatherings for religious purposes by different countries; it was clear that the virus was easily spread from person to person, which could result in a serious outbreak of the disease. In Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, several hundred Muslims attended a mosque service and became infected as well. After these incidents, the number of positive cases of the coronavirus drastically increased. Also, in Washington DC, a rector tested positive for the virus after giving communion in an Episcopalian church with worshippers numbering over 500, all of whom were subsequently asked to self-quarantine for two weeks (Robinson, 2020).

However, only a few countries were quick to adopt timely measures against gatherings for religious purposes. For example, the authority of Saudi Arabia prohibited foreign arrivals as well as visits to the cities of Mecca and Medina for the Umrah pilgrimage (Diseko, 2020). However, Saudi authorities said that these measures are only temporar}', and they have not indicated any plans to disrupt the Hajj (Diseko, 2020). In Bangladesh, access to the mosques has been restricted by the government, even for Friday prayers. The Malaysian government has also banned all prayers in the mosque since the appearance of the virus.

5.5 COVID-19 and environmental impacts

Regardless of the negative consequences of the ongoing pandemic, a positive impact on the environment is still being experienced. The drastic drop in the volume of automobile traffic and mass industrial production has considerably improved air quality around the world. China and Bangladesh may be the best-cited examples in terms of countries with high levels of air pollution, as both countries have been repeatedly classified as one of the most polluted and unliveable countries in the world. Our attention has been drawn to the many pictures on social media showing wild animals in and around big cities, nature lovers enjoying the sweet songbirds, dolphins ‘dancing’ in the sea, different blooming flowers, etc. The pandemic was also discovered to have reduced carbon dioxide levels across many regions. According to Kienapple (2020), in this regard, in the United States, there was 40% less domestic air traffic; in the city of New York there was a 50% decrease in carbon monoxide; and in Seattle, there was a 41% decrease in peak traffic congestion. In China, the carbon emissions in the country fell by 25%.

Due to the pandemic, the operation of factories has stopped resulting in a reduction of air pollution. For instance it has been reported that the Indian citizens in Punjab state now enjoy the snow peaks of the Himalayas which before the pandemic they could not enjoy due to air pollution. In addition, New Delhi which is considered the most atmospherically polluted city in the world - being the home to the deadliest air contaminants - witnessed a whopping 60% drop in fine particulate matter during the COVID-19 outbreak (Newburger & Jeffery, 2020). The lockdown commenced on 29 March in Nepal, and within just six days of the confinement period, the Langtang range became visible in Kathmandu. A big decrease in air pollution was also observed in Kathmandu Valley, a place which consistently ranked as one of the most polluted areas in the world (Newburger & Jeffery, 2020). Moreover, global air traffic was also found to have reduced by a staggering 60% (Hamwey, 2013). As a consequence of the pandemic, this year’s annual Earth Day event was observed online.

While the Earth appears to be ‘healing’ in some respects, the negative impact of COVID-19 on our environment is still being experienced via medical waste, wastewater generation, and electricity consumption. As such, the sudden increase in demand for plastics and plastic bottles, masks, personal protective equipment, and other medical equipment has resulted in tons and tons of medical waste. For instance, hospitals in Wuhan produced more than 200 tons of waste daily at the peak of the outbreak in Wuhan when compared to a previous average of under 50 tons (Masud, 2020). In addition to medical waste, the amount of household waste was also discovered to have increased steadily, as more people buy online and order deliveries, which comes with lots of packaging materials.

In many developing countries, however, there is a lack of proper disposal systems or recycling centres for this waste; therefore, users dispose of their waste indiscriminately, consequently polluting the fresh air and clean water. Attempts to manage, control, and prevent COVID-19 globally have resulted in a spike in wastewater generation, which is due to an increased need for sanitation and hygiene, resulting in a shortage of fresh water. The supply of electricity has also been hampered due to the pandemic (Statista, 2020). According to the World Economic Forum, the COVID-19 outbreak could result in the loss of habitat and wildlife poaching, with sales of illegally hunted animals resulting in the spread of animal-borne diseases such as zoonotic diseases. This shows a significant link between biodiversity loss and the flexibility of consistent supply chains in the global economy.

5.6 Recommendation and conclusion

Despite governments’ initiatives, additional precautions should be taken to minimize the economic effects of CO VID-19. First, governments should focus on minimizing the economic impact of COVID-19 instead of economic recovery. Indeed, we are completely unable to accurately estimate the economic losses due to COVID-19 at this point. The first priority should be given to saving lives. Therefore, some important and overriding factors should be addressed urgently in order to minimize not only the economic but also the social and environmental effects of COVID-19. For example, we need to increase intensive care hospital units as much as possible as well as build temporary hospitals with the help of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other social organizations. Second, there is an urgent need to provide sufficient resources and funds to public health sectors to disinfect affected areas and other public spaces. Most importantly, large-scale population testing is particularly important. Indeed, the identification of each case can save several lives. Third, it is high time that governments should allocate more money to detect, prevent, control, treat, and contain the virus and provide emergency assistance with food, medicine, etc. to those who need to be quarantined. Fourth, governments should promote e-business as an alternative business platform to revive businesses that have stopped in this pandemic situation. Fifth, all international and local financial institutions should provide additional financial support to developing countries like Malaysia. For example, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided additional funds to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in 2014 to fight the Ebola epidemic. Last but not least, in this global health crisis, each nation’s ministry of health alone is not enough to combat COVID-19; strong coordination among all government ministries is desirable.

However, post-COVID-19, government stimulus packages would be very welcome to help citizens to recover the national economy quickly. To improve the economy, governments can provide subsidies to businesses and individuals in the form of capital, wages, and salaries. The government can also provide short-term unemployment benefits to vulnerable groups to reduce unemployment and boost productivity. For example, China is accelerating the payment of unemployment insurance benefits and expanding its social safety nets. Korea is increasing jobseeker’s allowances for young adults and expanding them to low-income households. Fiscal measures must be taken into account to save businesses and financial institutions from going bankrupt and to help the entire economy recover quickly once the pandemic is over. The government may also provide tax relief to the most affected individuals and businesses who cannot afford to pay tax. At the same time, it is time to announce stimulus packages to support those affected individuals and businesses, particularly for high-performing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia. Upcoming national budgets should be prepared in such a way where people, SMEs, and informal service sectors can be supplied with a sufficient amount of cash by which they can generate the necessary demand for products and services in the market, which will ultimately help manufacturers and producers to make the economy dynamic.

There is a strong assumption or possible explanation as to where the virus originated, and it is that it came from the habit of eating wildlife. Therefore, it is high time to ban wildlife trade around the world, especially in China. The pattern of human behaviour and our eating habits must be controlled to protect the environment. A healthy and balanced diet and cleanliness are necessary’ to strengthen the immune system to defeat the virus. At the same time, world leaders must realize there is a climate change crisis otherwise, this could lead to a situation as serious as the coronavirus pandemic. In order to live on this planet, human behaviour must change in such ways as to ensure the protection and preservation of nature. In the face of this pandemic, we understand that just as it is important to flatten the curve of climate change and environmental destruction, it is crucial to flatten the COVID-19 curve as well. Therefore, to protect human health, livelihoods, wildlife resilience, biodiversity’, and the most vulnerable, this is the right time to frame and polish our ideas while putting plans and strategies

Impact of COVID-19 on sustainable development 85 in place to invest in new opportunities - specifically those leading to behavioural changes that are environmentally friendly.

The pandemic has also created social dilemmas and domestic violence is one issue that has increased as families are forced to be inside their houses with perpetrators 24/7 due to the lockdown measures implemented. Domestic violence affects the victim via a wide range of physical and mental health consequences. This implies that the victims require emergency support systems as well as psychological assessments. Therefore, the governments of all affected countries should focus on the provision of these emergency support systems and psychological assessments and take the necessary actions. Since no one can accurately predict the final financial damage that will be caused by CO VID-19, it is essential that economic activities become more focused on electronic commerce in order to avoid the severity of long-term economic depression. Otherwise, penury and unemployment will ultimately lead to criminal activities such as theft. Global production methods must maintain a balance between environmental and economic interests. Governments, as well as other concerned bodies, should concentrate on developing a new business model that carbon-neutral and production systems that are friendly to nature.

Last but not least, to drive home the point, fighting this virus is not only the government’s business but NGOs, national and international rights-based institutions, religious leaders, telecommunications companies, and the media all have an important role to play. In addition, coordination between all stakeholders are absolutely necessary to overcome the pandemic. Public figures and influencers can also educate the general public about the negative impacts of COVID-19 through various social media such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. The wealthy should also reach out to the low income families by providing food, clothing, and other basic amenities. In this critical situation, health workers, administrative agents, and police officers should be adequately protected, as these people are the frontline agents fighting this virus in all affected countries.

COVID-19 has severely affected the demographics, economics, social, religious, and environmental aspects of life in various ways around the world. As a result, each country is confronted with the major challenge of achieving the SDGs by 2030. To overcome this pandemic, the whole world must work together. In addition, individual and social efforts are essential to protect the Earth from this dangerous virus. Otherwise, human beings will continue to enhance this disaster that affects the economic and social support systems. Lockdown may not be the only measure to curtail this pandemic; therefore, the authorities concerned should implement effective measures such as maintaining social distancing in markets, surveillance of travellers, the temporary introduction of security systems, education, and online services, and more investments in the health sector to control the disease. Therefore, the bottom line is that governments, local and international financial institutions, NGOs, and other social organizations should work collectively to combat COVID-19 as well as to restore the world economy.


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