Social and economic impacts of COVID-19

With the end of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic being nowhere in sight, many countries are bracing themselves to deal with a host of accompanying social and economic problems, which no doubt will take a toll on communities everywhere.
The lockdowns implemented, even though necessary to contain the further spread of the virus, came with their own challenges, and countries, including Guyana, must immediately plan how, as much as possible, they would address the huge negative social impact this will have on people. The curfew in Guyana has now been extended, the airport remains closed, and in two regions, mining has been halted.
We have already reported on the notable spike in cases of domestic violence due to increased tensions in the household, resulting from the huge impact the virus is having on families. The United Nations recently pointed to reports from countries around the world which suggest that “restrictions in movement, social isolation, coupled with increased social and economic pressures are leading to an increase in violence in the home”.
According to the UN, women across the world are suffering even more now due to the extra economic and social stresses caused by “a radical shift away from normal life”.
Data also confirms that medical professionals and other key frontline workers are experiencing significant mental health problems linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, there were reports in the international media on a few of these frontline workers committing suicide as they were unable to deal with the pressures.
According to the UN guidelines, depression and anxiety before the COVID-19 pandemic cost the global economy more than US$1 trillion per year. Depression affects 264 million people in the world, while around half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, with suicide being the second leading cause of death in young people aged 15 to 29.
It should be noted that, here in Guyana, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, households were experiencing extremely tough economic times. In addition to the destruction of the mining, rice and manufacturing sectors, the coalition Government’s closure of the sugar estates had caused thousands to be jobless and in poverty. This has resulted in a host of social problems affecting communities across the country. Now, with the political instability and the COVID-19 pandemic, one can only imagine the difficulties families are faced with in their efforts to cope with the present realities, especially considering that the Government has offered no tangible support to families to weather the storm.
Due to all of these pressures, experts have predicted that there will be huge mental health problems facing communities. How persons respond to the lockdowns due to the virus can depend on various factors, including their background, the things that make them different from other people, the community they live in, and the kind of support network they have.
The UK Guardian newspaper carried a recent report which quoted the Royal College of Psychiatrists as saying that people with no history of mental illness are developing serious psychological problems for the first time, as a result of the lockdown amid growing stresses over isolation, job insecurity, relationship breakdown, and bereavement.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists warned that services in the United Kingdom could be overwhelmed by “a tsunami of mental illness”. It also pointed to a survey it undertook of psychiatrists across the UK, which revealed that families were experiencing significant tension as a result of staying at home.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) explained that fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming, and cause strong emotions in adults and children. It noted that stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include: fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, worsening of mental health conditions, and increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
A key part of the UN appeal is for mental health care to be incorporated into all Governments’ COVID-19 strategies, given that national average expenditure on it is just two per cent.
That said, our hope is that Governments and the international development partners would do much more to protect all those facing mental pressures during and after this pandemic.