How Covid-19 is changing the world: a statistical perspective

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COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. Everything has been impacted. How we live and interact with each other, how we work and communicate, how we move around and travel. Every aspect of our lives has been affected. Although the world is in lockdown, governments, epidemiologists, school principals, entrepreneurs and families around the world are already planning the next steps: how to safely reopen schools and businesses, how to commute and travel without transmitting or contracting infection, how to support those most affected by the crisis – the millions who have lost their livelihoods or their loved ones, how to ensure the already serious inequalities don’t deteriorate further.

Decisions made now and in the coming months will be some of the most important made in generations. They will affect people all around the world for years to come. It is imperative that governments making those decisions have access to the best information available.

Throughout this crisis, the international statistics community has continued to work together, in partnership with national statistical offices and systems around the world to ensure that the best quality data and statistics are available to support decision making during and after the crisis. This report gives a small flavor of that cooperation. It has been compiled jointly by 36 international organizations, under the aegis of the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities (CCSA).

The United Nations and other partner organizations of the CCSA make a wealth of impartial data and statistics available free of charge with the spirit of promoting facts-based planning. This report presents a snapshot of some of the latest information available on how COVID-19 is affecting the world today. Although a wide range of topics are covered in this report, a consistency of message is clear – this is an unprecedented crisis, and no aspect of our lives is immune. The quantitative knowledge presented in this report covers different aspects of public and private life from economic and environmental fluctuations to changes that affect individuals in terms of income, education, employment and violence and changes affecting public services such as civil aviation and postal services. The report also puts a spotlight on the affects for some sub-population groups like women and children as well as geographical regions.

The statistics presented in this report are unprecedented. We are witnessing data points and inflections in trends that would have been unimaginable only a few months ago. New statistical records are being set on an almost weekly basis. By the end of April, 212 countries, territories or areas had reported confirmed cases of COVID-19. In the first four months of 2020, more than 3 million cases of infection had been confirmed and more than 210,000 deaths. Some startling economic numbers include a 9% year-on-year fall in global production and manufacturing output, nowcasts that the value of global merchandise trade will fall by almost 27% in Q2 2020, the largest fall in global commodity prices on record (-20.4% between February and March 2020). On the social side, we see the shocking loss of employment – a decline of almost 10.5% in total working hours, the equivalent of 305 million full-time workers. Some 1.6 billion students have been affected by school closures and the crisis will push an additional 40 – 60 million people into extreme poverty. The impact is being felt in every region. For example, for the Gulf region, forecasts predict a decline in GDP growth of between 0.6% (best) and -1.9% (worst scenario) in 2020, but a recovery of between 0.5% and 2.5% in 2021. Whereas in Europe, statistics are already reporting that GDP fell by 3.5% in Q1 2020 – the sharpest fall since their time series began in 1995.

The report also provides a glimpse into the challenges facing national statistical offices at the moment. At a time when statistics are most needed, many statistical systems are struggling to compile basic statistics, highlighting once again the need to invest in data and statistics, and the importance of having modern national statistical systems and data infrastructure.

The statistics presented in this report are the tip of the iceberg. Readers are encouraged to visit the websites of the contributing organizations, where they can find a wealth of data and high-quality information. As the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, said: “With common cause for common sense and facts, we can defeat COVID-19 -- and build a healthier, more equitable, just and resilient world”. It is our sincere hope that this report contributes to that cause - with facts based on impartial statistics. Finally, we would like to give special thanks to the CCSA secretariat (UN-DESA) and the statistics team at UNCTAD, without whom this report would not have been possible.

Angela Me
Chief Research and Trend Analysis Branch,
Co-chair CCSA

Haishan Fu
Director, Development Data Group
World Bank
Co-chair CCSA