The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is highlighting the critical need to support health and social protection systems in the Pacific region, according to the latest issue of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Pacific Economic Monitor (PEM).

“While much of the Pacific remains free from COVID-19, the recent rise of cases in Papua New Guinea (PNG) shows that building capacity and strengthening health systems are integral parts of COVID-19 preparedness,” said ADB Director General for the Pacific Leah Gutierrez.

The latest issue of the PEM, the flagship economic publication of ADB’s Pacific Department, highlights country issues and explores policy themes centered on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.On average, the economies of ADB’s 14 Pacific developing members are forecast to contract by 4.3% in 2020 as COVID-19 impacts tourism and trade.

The projected growth rate in 2021 of 1.6% will rely on the reopening of international borders and the subsequent resumption of tourism, labor, and trade activity.The PEM says COVID-19 has had a far greater impact on the economy than on the health sector. ADB’s latest assessments suggest the effects of lockdowns and travel bans have been particularly severe on the region’s tourism-dependent economies, with some facing double-digit declines in gross domestic product in 2020.

The PEM provides updates on the potential short-term impacts of COVID-19 on poverty levels in the Pacific. Although decisive actions have largely prevented the virus from entering their countries, the Pacific’s priority now is to kickstart economic activity and ensure protection for the poor and vulnerable. Ongoing economic stimulus packages are a step in the right direction, but sound and timely execution of these plans will be key to the recovery, according to the report.

The PEM’s policy briefs examine the broader implications of the COVID-19 crisis on other critical issues including food security, waste management, and disaster response. It also examines the virus’ potential long-term effects on Pacific health systems and the pandemic’s poverty impacts, in which the number of those living in extreme poverty in the region could increase by more than 1 million—a 40% jump relative to pre-COVID-19 levels.

There is also a brief examining how PNG is pursuing fiscal reforms amid the economic downturn. The PEM is a bi-annual review of economic developments and policy issues in ADB’s 14 developing member countries in the Pacific and includes policy briefs on key policy issues and interests. In combination with the Asian Development Outlook series, ADB provides quarterly reports on economic trends and policy developments in the Pacific.

The PEM welcomes contributions of policy briefs from external authors and institutions.ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.

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