Q&A Webinar #8: COVID-19 Experience of Countries ahead of the Global Curve: Country-to-Country Learning and South-South Cooperation

Please see below the questions and comments from the audience. We invite you all to send your comments and let us know if you have any further questions on the topic. 


Cluster 1: Questions on national/regional level response to COVID-19  

Question 1: About two key issues linked to COVID-19: inflammation and blockage of air passage needing the use of ventilators. What medication did Doctors in China, India and South Korea give to their patients to address the problem of inflammation and possible infections? (From Francois Ekoko)

Dr. Choe: There are concerns on using ACE inhibitors and Angiotensin receptor blockers (both antihypertensives) that may alter viral entrance pathway. Research is on its way, and preliminary epidemiologic finding suggest no association between use of those medications and worse outcome.

Mr. Zhou: These are technical questions beyond my capacity to answer.

Mr Bhatt: Francois, I am not a medical doctor so cannot reply to this question but what you ask is an important question. In general, it will be such a good database to have where various medical treatments and procedures are shared with case history for others to read and learn.  And this can be audited by medical ethics team to protect the case and its privacy. WHO is one such place where such a database in the public domain can be initiated. Hopkins or FXB Center in the USA, only for example, can take shape such an initiative. 


Question 2: What are the chances that a vaccine against COVID-19 would be available to all people of every country as part of social protection programmes? (From Carlos Wurschmidt)

Dr. Choe: Not high at this moment, given time required for RnD and mass production.

Mr. Bhatt: Carlos you put your finger on what is called Health Commons.  These commons are eroded over the years as health system has moved more towards merchandising health. And in this the UN system members such as WHO and UNDP have a key role to play so that the vaccine is available to the poorest and vulnerable citizens and country. Such universal access to vaccine is in everybody's interest.  Otherwise the virus and vaccine will start coexisting and continue. Health for all is impossible without universal access to vaccine.  Foundations, such as Rockefeller Foundation, and others may pick up this challenge.


Question 3: For those going back to work, are they required to wear PPE within offices? (From Julia Hanoman)

Dr. Choe: In South Korea, facial mask, social distancing (2 meters) are recommended in offices.

Mr. Zhou: Only face masks are required for those returning to work, but body temperature is measured and travel history is monitored.

Mr. Bhatt: The guidelines for those who go back to work are emerging. In India the zones - red, orange, and green - matter. So does nature of work, layout and space available for each office or factory or hospital or shopping mall. Equally important is the access to toilets and utilities. More crowded they are less safe they are. In short, our public spaces and private offices will go through changes that may be transformative. Schools of design and city planning have a lot to offer to society in the coming years, Julia.


Question 4: Cities and Local governments are the majority first responders to covid19 around the world. They are on the frontline of citizen engagement, service delivery and management of public space and responsible for provision of essential services to their populations. They are also the most concerned in addressing social safety nets, food, water supply and response to domestic and gender-based violence during lockdowns. Would love to hear from the panelists examples of how cities and local governments managed the covid19 response (preparedness, response and recovery), given their limited fiscal space and financial capabilities, and what support they received from national governments in this regard, challenges? Opportunities to build better? improve local governments fiscal access, increased control over own source revenue? (From Mohammad Abbadi)

Mr. Bhatt: Abbadi sahib cities and local authorities are our key to effective action.  In the end, what is localization of pandemic response? Power to cities. UNDRR has fairly versatile guidelines for safer cities that we have worked with in India. The cities that had a strategy or a plan for disaster response have by and large done well in responding to the pandemic. This claim needs a rapid review to substantiate, the extent may differ but by and large cites with strategy or plan responded faster and better.


Question 5: For the prevention and protection, what are best practices for people who worked on large formal & informal market. As you know in Africa more than 50% of economy activities are in informal sector. So how can be the best prevention and protection for people who worked without distancing? (From Nelly Kankolongo)

Mr. Bhatt: Very important question, Nelly, as the lockdown will ease and open. The informal sector workers, vendors and hawkers, work in locations that are "natural markets", that is they are, by nature, located at crowded places and attract crowds. You say this is true in Africa. It is true in India. Cities without hawkers and vendors are impossible to imagine.  And yet our city plans and settlement layouts never plan for these hawkers and vendors. Time has come for UN Habitat to offer a new deal for vendors and hawkers to recover and restart their businesses keeping in mind ways to keep the virus away. Habitat conference in Istanbul offered a way ahead decades ago. StreetNet, a network of vendors may have been busy developing guidelines in South Asia.  Self Employed Women 's Association in Ahmedabad is working with the Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner to find a way ahead of that benefits the city, citizens, and street vendors. 


Question 6: Are there lessons on avoiding stigma and marginalisation of vulnerable and minority communities? (From Sejuti Basu)

Mr. Bhatt: Attaching any stigma to a specific group or community or religion or nationality or gender is not acceptable.  Basu ji as you know we all are exposed to the virus. Social protection measures need to include large scale awareness campaigns against stigmatization. Repeated attempts to talk with the communities about stigmatization are needed. Authorities must be very vigilant to dismantle such a build up against a community or an individual. 


Question 7: Since most Global South countries are having dominance of informal sector, isn’t it time that we relook at linking income protection programmes with health security initiatives that are able to address challenges Economic crisis, globalisation and climate change vulnerabilities? (From Sandhya Iyer)

Mr. Bhatt: Social protection (including health and wellbeing) and protection of income or livelihoods must go hand in hand. Any prosperity must ride on these two wheels, Sandhya ji. ILO has done good work and successful pilots in this direction. Civil Society Organizations such as PUKAR in the city of Mumbai have taken local initiatives with community leadership in India. FXB Center initiated 5000 family survey related focus groups in Kerala indicated that affected population wanted both, work and wellbeing! 


Question 8: On the context of multi-stakeholder partnership to tackle covid19, what is the role of private sectors, CSOs, and other stakeholders? (From M. Singgih Pangestu)

Mr. Bhatt: Private sector businesses have a lot to offer Pangestu. In India the business partnerships are offering donations to the Prime Minister's fund; supporting leading civil society organizations; directly taking relief measures; and shaping the thinking ahead. At the same time the private sector let the workers go in such uncertain times. Large number of migrant workers are on their way home. Many with empty pockets and without their dues paid up. Private hospitals are offering their facilities for health care; hotels are offering their facilities for quarantine; and small businesses are offering needed basic supplies.  What needs further thinking on is the role of private sector in strengthening and surging the social protection measures for the street vendors and home based producers and farm labour and children and others. 


Question 9: What time frame do we have to deal with the aftermath? (From Stephen Oyaya)

Mr. Bhatt: Mr. Oyaya your question on pandemic timeframes is important.  The usual timeframes for response to relif to recovery process and so on does not matter in this pandemic. Each stage overlaps, collides, and moves away from each other simultaneously. Multiple timeframes coexist. This is real. This is unusual. And therefore, needs a new approach to pandemic timeframes as you suggest. 


Question 10: Have we come up with a way of working on the post mortem of COVID-19, Economically, Geographically and Emotionally? (From Stephen Oyaya)

Mr. Bhatt: Humanitarian sector is weak in what you Mr. Oyaya call post mortem. Will you let me call it review or evaluation or learning or accountability? If yes, let me tell you that we find in our mid action review that this pandemic will offer one of the most important challenges to the evaluators.  How do you post mortem a death? An infection? How do you evaluate a pandemic of such global scale? Defining a sample will be so difficult.  Organizations such as ALNAP in UK may offer a way ahead, Mr. Oyaya.


Question 11: What more economically stronger countries are doing for their weaker partners in the south in terms of fighting COVID-19? (From Monwar Hossain)

Mr. Bhatt: This pandemic has left none untouched. Big and small, developed and developing, rich and poor, countries in the global South and North. All. So who is helping whom or who should help whom is very hard to decide in general and in particular in the area of social protection. Imagine India rushing medical supplies to the USA! Global economy is rapidly changing, and local forces may change it even more Mr. Hossain. But you are right in asking for a universal social protection measures with very active contributions from the rich countries. Everybody needs social protection measures. 


Cluster 2: Questions on SSC/TrC

Question 12: Given the combined devastation from recession, financial crisis and massive health pandemic, affecting employment and income hard in the South, how can SSC and TrC generate demand and supplies of raw materials from the South given the employment and earning blockages resulting from the widespread lockdowns? (From Pinaki Chakraborti)

Question 13: This being a massive combine of Health pandemic, recession and financial debacles, how can the SSC and TrC help regenerating demand all over, especially from the South and also supplies of raw materials given the employment and earning blockages resulting from the widespread lock downs? (From Pinaki Chakraborti)

*Questions 12 & 13 were addressed together:

Ms Wang: The COVID-19 has resulted in mass production shutdowns and supply chain disruptions across the world. Southern countries are beginning to feel the full impact. This is causing further uncertainty for countries in the South, twined with the existing economic and political instabilities.

It is worth noting that Covid-19 has complicated impacts on different sectors of economy and corresponding labor demand. While many sectors have been severely impacted which led to sharp increase in unemployment and employment disruptions, other sectors have demonstrated growth in labor demand, such as medical supply manufacturing, service sector in the digital platform economy, medical and related sectors.

SSC and TrC can play a role in promoting dialogues, sharing experiences and fostering cooperation on promoting proactive employment policies or schemes, which may include public employment services provision, employment information sharing, supporting training, and targeted social insurance for those unemployed. Training is especially important to increase labors’ preparedness and competitiveness for the post-pandemic labor market.

Covid-19 has also not affected rural areas as much as in urban areas, or in very different ways. The impact of the farming and supply for raw materials is yet to be assessed. Nonetheless, South-South e-commerce development would be an opportunity to boost trade including supporting raw material suppliers to gain better market access internationally. On May 14, 1500kg coffee beans from Rwanda were sold within a few minutes on the Alibaba eWTP platform during a promotional event in the context of COVID-19, benefiting over 4000 coffee farmers.


Question 14: For many reasons, SSC and TrC is an approach that has exponential benefits in the Caribbean region. In the current context, are there any plans to expand current cooperation frameworks related to COVID-19 and beyond? Let me take this opportunity to thank UNOSSC for all the support provided so far. (From Ugo Blanco, UNDP Barbados and Eastern Caribbean)

Ms Wang: Many South-South Cooperation countries and partners are considering to expand and adapt their support with priority focus on response to and mitigation of the impact of the pandemic. For example, the India-UN Development Partnership Fund, including its Commonwealth Window, has fast tracked its approval of such initiatives, including a USD 1 million project aimed at strengthening national health capacities and reducing socio-economic and human development negative impacts of COVID-19 crisis in Antigua and Barbuda.


Question 15: A huge amount of literature these days are focusing on the supply constraint that will be developed through the Intellectual Property Rights? However, Intellectual Property is also crucial for innovation. How the SSC can be developed as a cooperating mechanism that will protect human motivation to innovate without constraining the supply of essentials? (From Ashis Adhikary)

Ms. Wang: There should be a fair balance between promoting and protecting innovation and making the supply of essentials available to people, ensuring that IPR protection efforts do not turn into the death of the vulnerable and the poor. As it continues to wreak havoc, the global pandemic is exposing the massive global inequality that is now deciding on who may survive the pandemic and who may not. This is true across countries and it is also true within countries. In this context, the “intellectual property versus access” debate have shifted towards “innovation-plus-access”. This shift, which is captured in the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (GSPoA), adopted at the 2008 World Health Assembly, is being led by health authorities under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO). Engagements on intellectual property issues in South-South collaboration has intensified in recent years. Countries of the Global South can exchange on the larger intellectual property and access to essentials policies and practices, including forging alliances (between governments and civil society) to push for shared interests in global policymaking arenas.


Question 16: This is Dr. Sajid Amin here from Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Pakistan. As we, given the very nature of Covid-19 pandemic, Social Protection has emerged as the primary tool to protect/compensate masses from socioeconomic fallout of pandemic. However, two major barriers emerged i) absence of Universal Protection System and ii) socioeconomic/structural inequalities limiting the access of vulnerable people to whatever options were available under existing (Targeted) Social Protection System.

A. What possibilities do you see to generate a movement for moving towards a Universal Protection System through South-South Triangular Cooperation?

Ms. Wang: Perhaps a good starting point could be enhancing South-South cooperation and dialogue on social relief system and measures which could respond to specific crises. The ongoing crisis has shown how vital such initiatives are. While it remains to be seen if the momentum will continue after COVID-19 is brought under control, it is unmistakable that the impact of the pandemic will influence our perceptions and views about social protection post COVID19. Lack of social protection have cost the world lives and drastically changed the live style of millions, there should be a complete transformation in the way we perceive and tackle issues of social protection and inequalities, and eventually it is possible that a movement can emerge, aiming towards securing people’s health, and fighting inequalities and providing social protection to all. SSC will continue to facilitate the transformation and to help countries sharing knowledge and debating and exchaning the most effective ways to build strong social protection system and to support the most vulnerable in the societies.

Also, a multi-stakeholder approach would be essential, particularly as some countries may experience large public expenditure, lack of resources and may have financial constraint to develop such relief system. From this perspective, through South-South cooperation, countries may mobilize multiple sectors as partners in a larger international development community, e.g., global and regional intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, the private sector, think tanks, and charities.

B.  What you think should be the starting point? and how can policy think tanks play effective role?

Ms. Wang: There is little doubt that the starting point should be to build on the existing momentum and the lessons learnt. But such policy initiatives will need to be well researched and well understood. This is where think tanks will always play a vital role in informing policy making on best practices and in helping tailor them to each specific context and geography. Think tanks would therefore position themselves as inputs providers through research.


Question 17: There is concern that when the utility of a vaccine is proven, it will be rapidly produced and distributed in northern countries. How does UNOCCS guarantee that the doses are also opportunely distributed in the south-south countries? (From Ricardo Cuberos)

Ms. Wang: This concern is what led to the WHO’s global initiative to ensure that even the poorest populations have access to the vaccine when/if one is found. Many private organizations are also striving to make that happen. Through South-South cooperation, developing countries can jointly advocate and create mutual support mechanisms, especially in partnership with international organizations, to ensure access to vaccinations. Jointly improving scientific research capacity is also critical for the developing countries in the long run.


Question 18: How SSC and TC can support the development of knowledge about pandemic preparedness for countries of the South? Is it possible to redirect efforts towards a coordinated action to develop conditions of strong SSC around key areas such as technology, science, data and other sectors which are shown to be weak in these countries mainly during this extreme situation? (From Myriam Escallon)

Ms. Wang: The Global South has made great strides through peer-to-peer learning and exchanges on key areas such as technology, science, data, etc. Attempts are also being made to develop a more coordinated action in this regard through various networks and centers of excellence.  Among others, for example, the International Science, Technology and Innovation Centre for South-South Cooperation (ISTIC), which operates under the auspices of UNESCO . It provides an international platform for cooperation among developing countries to increase the capacity for management of science, technology and innovation throughout the Global South.

In addition, actions on promoting SSC to leverage digitalization both in response to COVID-19 and in efforts to accelerate SDGs will be more and more important. As the world has been becoming increasingly digitalized, more actions are required to strengthen SSC on digitalization, particularly in utilizing existing digitalization tools. As 4/5 population in the least developed countries lack access to the internet, it is important to reduce inequality and promote a more inclusive digitalization progress.


Question 19: So far, presenters have given an overview of national measures in their respective countries. What could be the strategies to follow to promote SSC, taking into account that all countries have been affected by this crisis will have similar challenges? (From Lianne Guerra Rondon)

Ms. Wang: Knowledge sharing is an important aspect of South-South Cooperation. This Webinar is exactly promoting such peer learning among countries facing similar challenges caused by this crisis. The UNOSSC, through our South-South Galaxy and South-South Global Thinkers platforms will continue to accelerate its work and efforts in sharing these solutions and best practices across the global South.

In view of the deep and long-lasting impact of the pandemic, other aspects of South-South cooperation are also important and actively in action. For example, policy dialogues to coordinate actions among neighbouring countries, and pooled financing to support each other in the responses. SAARC has set a good example here. Solidarity among Southern countries becomes especially important facing the tendency of isolation, where only cooperation is the way to win the war against a virus that knows no borders.

The pandemic also reminds us of the actual challenges and demands of the developing countries, such as addressing possible reverse of progress made in poverty reduction, basic health and education services, economic and social recovery with the inclusion of vulnerable populations,  enhancing digital infrastructure and digital economy, promoting more cooperative and fair global governance, etc. And in that sense learning from-COVID19, SSC will have to approach the consequences and the effects of the pandemic, by building new strategies for cooperation that focus on these pressing issues.


Question 20: Many conflict-affected fragile countries and regions (Asia, Pacific, Africa and Caribbean) are home to people working in informal sector in addition to the poorest. Social security is a privilege that is denied to them. In addition, these countries do not have statistic and data system to be able to track the most affected vulnerable population due to lockdowns. Are there any lessons from India or any of its regions that have a similar situation and if yes, what would be some practical lessons that can benefit these countries? (From Habib Mayar, G7+ Secretariat)

Ms. Wang: Recent innovations have made it possible to combine primary data collection, data from national bureaus of statistics and satellite images (see more here). In addition, remote sensing technologies – such as drones and satellites – are being used to identify and protect vulnerable populations in public health emergencies such as COVID-19. Such technologies have already been deployed in order to address similar problems and issues such as disaster response in many countries and could be quickly adapted to the current global crisis. Using these technologies emergency responders can help with faster decision making and allow quicker actions.

There are also practical lessons to learn from the Global South with resource constraints and limited social security to citizens. What most countries have done in the Global South during lockdowns is mobilization of citizens. Such mobilization has been done on radios and televisions or other means such as loudspeakers moved on vehicles or by individuals while spreading the Covid-19 warnings and precautions. Suspected cases and their contacts are reported to the Covid-19 rapid response teams, tested and isolated. Relatives, friends, good-wishers, and volunteers donate PPE and food items to the vulnerable population. The larger society steps in and becomes the social security.


Cluster 3. Questions addressed to specific speakers

To Mr. Bhatt:

Question 21: The current pandemic has also exposed the limitations in India's public health system. What is worse is the poor social protection even for the health care personnel? (From Sandhya Iyer)

Mr Bhatt: You are right in saying that pandemic has exposed the limits of India's health and social protection measures.  Our work on child protection with UNICEF in several states has tried to address these limits.  Pandemic has also shown the heroic efforts of thousands of health workers at all levels. And by further protecting these health workers pandemic response can be made more effective and robust. Let me also mention the active role of para health workers and community health workers, may they be working with the authorities or civil society. They are doing very difficult work in very difficult situations. 


Question 22: What data bases were used for targeting the affected population? (From Aliya Khan)

Mr Bhatt: Well various datasets were used in different locations and no list of these data set utilisation is available.  But in Ahmedabad city, for example, the authorities used the data on individuals who recently took an international flight to reach Ahmedabad. This leads to the questions of privacy, protection, commercial use, and surveillance. A lot needs to be studied in terms of who used what data for what purpose? And what afterlife such data has after its first and known use? Our ongoing work on assessment of disaster risk reduction institutions in India for a international financial institutions indicates far more data driven and data based responses in the future pandemic responses.


Question 23: Should we consider social security measures equal to ss policies? what is India doing to have ss policies and how is the idea of "not yet being under ss" realistically being addressed? (From Nicolas Fernandez Bravo)

Mr Bhatt: Social security policy and measures are related but separate.  Policy does not ensure measures or their performance.  Far more efforts and resources are needed to make the policy perform. Our recent work for a global donor suggests that time has come for universal socia protection/security coverage.  At least to start with the most vulnerable, that is, the poor and women in the informal sector of India. Our current work in the Sunderbans delta, Kutch desert, and the coastal city of Mumbai with IDS (UK) and IITB suggests that pandemic magnifies other uncertainties faced by pastoralist or fisher folks or mangrove planters. At the same time pandemic offers an opportunity to surge and expand and transform social protection measures intended for the poor and vulnerable citizens.


To Mr. Zhou:

Question 24: Congratulation to China for its remarkably fast victorious struggle and thanks a million for sharing the Chinese experiences and efforts to fight the situation. However, the post pandemic recovery process for the South will be really challenging, what role do you think China has to play in the cooperation process? (From Pinaki Chakraborti)

Mr Zhou: China has provided material assistance to more than 150 countries and international organizations. Local governments, charity organizations and businesses have also offered their help. China has also improved knowledge-sharing in terms of prevention and control of the pandemic, and sent out 19 medical aid teams to 17 countries. China is also working with WHO, CEPI, GAVI to develop the vaccines. For the future, to strengthen the public health system and improve the availability of technology tools in South countries will be an important area of China’s international cooperation.


Question 25: In terms of coping with the impact of COVID-19, the digital solutions such as e-commence, big data monitoring and digital financial services have been playing a critical role to provide support to people, especially to vulnerable people regarding the social protection. Can Mr. Zhou share some insights or lessons in terms of best practices in China? For this short term in response to COVID-19, and also how to initiate these innovative digital solutions to cope with such crisis for long-term. (From Jun He)

Mr Zhou: I have no specific answers for this question, but there are several Q&As CIKD has provided in its knowledge-sharing series. Please check the links below:


Question 26: Mr. Taidong Zhou, thank you for sharing this experience with us. Would you please send us a paper or document with the guidelines you used for caring for old citizens? (from Alexandra Chaves)

Mr Zhou: Please refer to the below link:

Q25: How to guarantee supplies of daily necessities for the solitary elders?


Question 27: We know people travelling from Wuhan to Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, China, USA, Japan were tested COVID19 positive. Were there any COVID19 positive of people travelling to other parts of China travelling from Wuhan airport or by bus or train or car? (From Monwar Hossain)

Mr Zhou: As far as current evidence shows, yes. The whole country was infected by the pandemic, though the degree differs.


General comments:

COMMENT from Anita Amorim: Thank you Mr Zhou, fantastic contribution.

COMMENT from Pravin Sinha: It will be pertinent to stress that when one speaks about India, the challenge is diversities and inequality with huge mass concentrated in the lower economic strata.

COMMENT from Sandhya Iyer: Failure to understand the importance of migration in India we need to address COVID 19 framework of social distancing and quarantine options need to be discussed.

COMMENT from Pravin Sinha: At the national level, India is in the process of working to introduce universal social security by bringing a national Code on Social Security.

COMMENT from Pravin Sinha: India has been in a state of complete lockdown for the last 40 days and that could be one of the reasons for the lower cases of infection as compared to Europe and USA. (From Pravin Sinha)

COMMENT from Sandhya Iyer: While the focus is on vaccination, there is also a need to build knowledge on medical care systems across SSC to improve recovery rates across countries. Need to conduct large scale data analysis of trends and pattern of treatment.

COMMENT from Hany Besada: Digital technologies are playing key roles in managing risks, coping with, adapting to and surviving the pandemic in several Southern countries. It is important to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the ways countries are utilizing digital technologies to fight the pandemic across the Global South through SSC mechanisms. One useful technology to point to is the Argentinian start-up Dymaxion Labs which uses advanced ML, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered geospatial analytics and computer vision techniques with blockchain technology set up to do surveying faster and at a lower cost. It is possible to do so because cameras installed in satellites detect and monitor physical characteristics of cities and settlements which means human surveyors do not need to visit the sites. The goal behind these technologies is to help improve decision making and provide rapid disaster responses. Such technologies are of particular importance in the current scenario.

COMMENT from Sandhya Iyer: COVID 19 has exposed that per capita incomes of countries does not matter, we need to build national and global public goods.

COMMENT from Sandhya Iyer: This in times of globalisation and climate change is going to make it particularly challenging for individual countries to address.