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Top UN official: Economic shutdowns could kill more people than the coronavirus itself

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A leading United Nations official warned this week that the economic impact of the global coronavirus pandemic could end up resulting in more deaths worldwide than the virus itself — and based on the numbers he provided, it could be significantly more.

David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, the world's largest humanitarian organization, reported during a virtual session Tuesday that the world is on the brink of a hunger pandemic, and that coronavirus-related economic lockdowns will greatly exacerbate the effects.

What are the details?

Here's the upshot: Beasley warned that "there is a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself."

"This sounds truly shocking but let me give you the numbers," Beasley said. "821 million people go to bed hungry every night all over the world, chronically hungry, and as the new Global Report on Food Crisis published today shows, there are a further 135 million people facing crisis levels of hunger or worse."

"That means 135 million people on earth are marching toward the brink of starvation. But now the World Food Programme analysis shows that, due to the Coronavirus, an additional 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020. That's a total of 265 million people," he continued.

Beasley said that the WFP analysis shows that "300,000 people could starve to death every single day over a three-month period," and he noted that this figure "does not include the increase of starvation due to COVID-19."

He then cited specific ways in which global economic shutdowns will harm lower income individuals around the world, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

"Lockdowns and economic recession are expected to lead to a major loss of income among the working poor," he stated. "Overseas remittances will also drop sharply — this will hurt countries such as Haiti, Nepal, and Somalia just a name a couple. The loss of tourism receipts will damage countries such as Ethiopia, where it accounts for 47% of total exports. The collapsing oil prices in lower-income countries like South Sudan will have an impact significantly, where oil accounts for 98.8% of total exports. And, of course, when donor countries' revenues are down, how much impact will this have on life saving foreign aid."

Anything else?

The International Monetary Fund announced earlier this month that it is anticipating "the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression" as the coronavirus pandemic forces business across the world to close their doors.

Similarly to the WFP analysis, the IMF predicted that the economic downturn will more negatively affect the world's poor.

"With weak health systems to begin with, many face the dreadful challenge of fighting the virus in densely populated cities and poverty-stricken slums, where social distancing is hardly an option," said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

Just over a month ago, as the COVID-19 outbreak was in its upswing in the United States, President Trump raised eyebrows when he warned of the damage that widespread economic shutdowns could cause.

"We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself," he famously tweeted.

As of Friday morning, the coronavirus had infected at least 2.7 million people worldwide, resulting in over 190,000 deaths, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker.

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