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#COVID-19 recovery must ensure resilience for workers and the planet

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We are witnessing a convergence of crises. The world is facing an unprecedented scale of human devastation from COVID-19 and communities are at risk of widespread destitution. The loss of lives is heart-breaking. The economic crisis has caused widespread hardship and uncertainty as swaths of the global workforce face unemployment, loss of income and mass workplace closures. This can only multiply global inequality, writes International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary and Global Commission on the Economy and Climate member Sharan Burrow. 

Meanwhile, the global climate crisis has not gone away. The immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic only increase the urgency for climate action. Be it climate or COVID, the pandemic has laid bare how ill prepared we are to manage major risks, and how existing vulnerabilities and inequalities can be exacerbated by a crisis.

In our efforts to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, we cannot afford to ignore the major threat posed by climate change. We must integrate recovery strategies that generate infrastructure, invest in care and jobs that are also part of the climate solution. Bailing out high carbon industries or investing in fossil fuel production risks the very survival of the human race. We can and must tackle both together, in order to save lives and protect workers.

The first wave of government action is necessarily focused on addressing the immediate impacts of COVID-19, stopping its spread and helping those affected by the virus or  unemployment. This alone is a huge task. Many countries are struggling to support impacted workers and communities. One of the missing pieces is a global social protection fund for the poorest of countries. It would take just $37 billion for five years to build resilience for all people in the Least Developed Countries.

The next waves of government response are focused on how to boost growth. In doing so, we must ensure that as the UN Secretary General says we ‘build back better’. Governments and multilateral development institutions will be investing trillions of dollars to address the crisis and reflate economies.

This is a once in a generation moment to accelerate the transition to a more resilient growth model.

The way through this crisis begins first with committing to a new social contract, and second with ensuring that the development pathways we set for our futures are more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient.

First, the new world must be defined by a new social contract. The old social contract is unsustainable, unjust, and has drastically exacerbated impacts of the pandemic. Support for workers and businesses who are committed to rights and sustainability is imperative.

According to International Trade Union Confederation, many countries including Canada and New Zealand have shown commendable leadership in centering people in their crisis response. Now these gains must be maintained, and where there were exclusions, they must be resolved.

It’s time for many more governments to step up. The COVID-19 crisis is expected to wipe out up 300 million jobs in the second quarter of 2020. The IMF’s World Economic Outlook projects a 3% decline in global output, the worst since the 1930’s Great Depression.

The world needs to come together to establish universal social protection for all, to help vulnerable communities overcome this devastation and emerge stronger. We are all in this together.

Second, recovery efforts must mainstream twenty-first century approaches to how we produce, consume and live. These approaches must be more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient, and we must seek and prioritize them in economic recovery packages.

Low carbon investments make more sense than ever. Given rising global unemployment, such investments could boost jobs and generate strong economic returns. Bold climate action could deliver immediate social and economic benefits, including 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030.

Recent research shows that green COVID-19 recovery packages, which cut greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate economic growth, deliver higher returns than conventional stimulus spending.

Only one-sixth of countries prioritized green measures in stimulus packages during the global 2008 financial crisis. Those that did provide ample examples of positive results. The United States invested a record amount in clean energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which supported 900,000 clean energy job years from 2009 to 2015. Findings suggest US investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and public transportation double jobs per dollar compared to traditional alternatives.  In its recovery from the financial crisis, the Republic of Korea spent the highest proportion of its stimulus on green measures globally (about 69%), and rebounded faster than most OECD countries.

More recently, despite their government’s lamentable attack on labour laws and the minimum wage, Indonesia’s Low Carbon Development Initiative (LCDI) established clear evidence of the immediate benefits of a sustainable growth path through ambitious climate action. These benefits include higher employment, faster poverty alleviation, higher GDP growth, and better air quality.

The European Council has also moved swiftly to ensure that a green transition is central to the European Union’s economic response to COVID-19, building on the EU Green Deal announced in December 2019.

This is the sort of action we hope G20 finance ministers meant when they called for a recovery that achieves “strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth” at their meeting last month. But it will take global coherence to ensure we see climate and employment ambition realised.

Instead of propping up already declining industries, we need to ensure a just transition and measures to reset our economic trajectory to help us build back better. Now more than ever, the path to a strong and inclusive recovery runs through uplifting the voices of workers, trade unions, and affected communities, and ensuring their protection.

This is the time to lay the foundation for a new social contract built on just working conditions and sustainable economic growth. With urgent, collaborative action, we can emerge from this crisis more resilient than ever.

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UK plans COVID-19 'challenge' trials that deliberately infect volunteers

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Britain will help to fund trials using a manufactured COVID-19 virus to deliberately infect young healthy volunteers with the hope of accelerating the development of vaccines against it, write  and Paul Sandle in London, with additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva.

The government said on Tuesday (20 October) it will invest £33.6 million ($43.5m) in the so-called “human challenge” trials in partnership with Imperial College London, laboratory and trial services company hVIVO and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.

If approved by regulators and an ethics committee, the studies will start in January with results expected by May 2021, the government said.

Using controlled doses of virus, the aim of the research team  will initially be to discover the smallest amount of virus it takes to cause COVID-19 infection in small groups of healthy young people, aged between 18 and 30, who are  at the lowest risk of harm, the scientists leading the studies said in a briefing.

Up to 90 volunteers could be involved at the initial stages, they said, and virus to be used will be manufactured in labs at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Chris Chiu, an Imperial College scientist on the team, said the experiments would rapidly increase understanding of COVID-19 and the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes it, as well as accelerating development of potential new treatments and vaccines.

Critics of human challenge trials say deliberately infecting someone with a potentially deadly disease for which there is currently no effective treatment is unethical.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the trials would be carefully controlled and marked an important next step in building understanding of the virus and accelerating vaccine development.

Chiu said the plan for initial studies - which are aimed at assessing how much virus it takes to infect someone with COVID-19 - is to immediately treat volunteers with the Gilead antiviral drug remdesivir as soon as they are infected.

He said that while studies have show remdesivir has little or no effect on severe COVID-19 cases, his team has a “strong belief” that it will be an effective treatment if given in the very earliest stages of infection.

A spokeswoman for the World Health Organization said that there are “very important ethical considerations” when approaching such human challenge trials.

“What is critical is that if people are considering this, it must be overseen by an ethics committee and the volunteers must have full consent. And they must select the volunteers in order to minimise their risk,” she told reporters in Geneva.

Chiu said his team’s “number one priority is the safety of the volunteers”.

“No study is completely risk free, but (we) will be working hard to ensure we make the risks as low as we possibly can,” he said.

Britain’s hVIVO, a unit of pharmaceutical services company Open Orphan, said last week it was carrying out preliminary work for the trials.

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EU ready to approve new measures for economies if necessary - Dombrovskis

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The European Union will be ready to approve new measures to support its member states should the economies suffer further after a new surge in COVID-19 cases, its Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis (pictured) said on Wednesday (21 October), writes Giulia Segreti.

“We will certainly keep monitoring the situation closely and we are ready to react with new proposals, if necessary,” Dombrovskis told Italian daily La Stampa when asked whether there would be a new Recovery Fund.

Dombrovskis added that a new wave of coronavirus infections would “certainly have an effect” on the Commission’s upcoming autumn economic forecasts.

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77% of Europeans insist EU funds be linked to respect for Rule of Law

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A majority of EU citizens supports a larger EU budget to overcome the pandemic. Public health is the priority, followed by economic recovery and climate change.

In a new survey commissioned by the European Parliament and conducted at the beginning of October 2020, nearly eight out of ten participants (77%) across the EU support the concept that the EU should only provide funds to member states if the national government implements the rule of law and democratic principles. At least seven in ten participants agree with this statement in 26 EU Member States.

An absolute majority of Europeans continues to call for a larger EU budget to fight COVID-19

54% of Europeans believe the EU should have greater financial means to be able to overcome the consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic. In 20 EU member states, a majority of the participants agrees with this claim; in 14 EU member states, an absolute majority of participants supports a larger EU budget.

Asked about which policy fields this enlarged EU budget should be spent on, more than half of participants (54%) say that public health should be a priority, followed by economic recovery and new opportunities for businesses (42%), climate change and environmental protection (37%) and employment and social affairs (35%). At EU level, climate change and the environment has replaced employment in the top three spending priorities compared to the last survey conducted in June 2020.

Public health is the top spending priority for respondents in 18 countries. Estonia, Latvia and Czechia put the economic recovery on top, whilst in Austria, Denmark and Germany citizens favoured most the fight against climate change. In Croatia, Slovakia and Finland, participants chose employment and social affairs as their top spending priority.

Broad majority of citizens fear direct impact on their personal financial situation

Taking the necessary decisions on the Recovery Package and the MFF as soon as possible is clearly vital, as demonstrated by the worrying personal financial situation of European citizens since the beginning of the pandemic. A broad majority of citizens fear the pandemic will a direct impact on their personal financial situation –or have already suffered it: 39% of participants say that the COVID-19 crisis has already impacted their personal income, while a further 27% expect such an impact in the future. Only 27% expect the COVID-19 situation not to have an impact on their personal income. In 20 countries, most participants say that the current crisis has already impacted their personal income.

Citizens continue to see the EU as part of the solution to this crisis

Two-thirds of participants (66%) agree that the EU should have more competences to deal with crises such as the Coronavirus pandemic. Only a quarter (25%) disagrees with this statement. These findings are consistent with the results from both previous surveys conducted by the European Parliament in April and June 2020 respectively.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the European Parliament has commissioned three dedicated surveys measuring European public opinion in times of COVID-19. The latest survey was conducted online (and via telephone in Malta) by Kantar between 25 September and 7 October 2020, among 24,812 participants in all 27 EU Member States. The survey was limited to those aged between 16 and 64 (16-54 in Bulgaria, Czechia, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia). Quotas on gender, age, and region at national level ensure the survey is representative. The total EU results are weighted according to the size of the population of each country surveyed.

The publication of the full report for this survey, including the complete data set, is planned for early November 2020.

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