Covid-19 resurgences have dominated the headlines and are threatening efforts by countries in the region and beyond to reopen their economies and recover from the ravages wrought by the pandemic. But what should be equally worrying is that the pandemic magnifies inequality both within and between nations. Among the hardest hit will be the poor in developing countries who do not have the benefit of social safety nets to cushion the effects of the outbreak. The pandemic threatens to undo progress made in poverty reduction in the past decades. In South-east Asia, the poverty rate is expected to rise to 18 per cent this year - instead of the forecast decline to 15.2 per cent - driving 18 million more people into poverty. The economic shutdowns, including restrictions on the movement of people, goods and services, are expected to slash 11.6 million to 18.4 million jobs or about 4.2 to 6.7 per cent of total employment in the region.
Those who are more adversely affected are vulnerable groups such as women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities because of a lack of social protection and savings. In particular, inequality in education has become more stark during the pandemic as schools close and learning goes online - children from better-off homes are better equipped to cope and richer nations are more able to provide online education than poorer nations with patchy Internet and non-tech-savvy teachers. Educational inequality will affect the competitiveness of both individuals and nations decades down the road.
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