The economic calamity accompanying the spread of the novel coronavirus, and the resulting global recession could cause hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths this year, and push a million more into abject poverty, a report released by the United Nations on Thursday said. The impact could effectively reverse the progress made over the two to three years in reducing infant mortality within a single year, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said.

“Thankfully, children have so far been largely spared from the most severe symptoms of the disease. But their lives are being totally upended,” Guterres said in a video message.

The report found that the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, together with measures to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus, could potentially be catastrophic for millions of children worldwide. It said an estimated 42 million (4.2 crore) to 66 million (6.2 crore) children could fall into extreme poverty as a result of the crisis this year.

“This is a universal crisis of unprecedented scale,” Guterres said. “All children, of all ages, and in all countries, are affected. However, some children are destined to bear the greatest costs. I reiterate my urgent appeal: let us protect our children and safeguard their well-being.”

The United Nations chief said that among those who will be worst hit are children living in slums, refugee and displacement camps, and zones of active conflict, as well as those who are disabled or live in detention centres.

The UN policy brief said that there were three main channels – infection with the virus itself; the immediate socioeconomic impacts of measures to stop transmission of the virus and end the pandemic; and the potential longer-term effects of delayed implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals – through which children are affected by this crisis.

The pandemic has also exacerbated the learning crisis as 188 countries have imposed countrywide school closures, affecting more than 1.5 billion children and youth. “The potential losses that may accrue in learning for today’s young generation, and for the development of their human capital, are hard to fathom,” the report said.

Guterres urged countries to take steps to cushion the unintended impact of the pandemic on the lives of children by expanding social assistance to families and securing food supply chains, even at the local level. The UN chief also suggested that governments should prioritise the continuity of services such as schooling and maternal care. “With many children in jeopardy, I appeal to leaders at all levels to do everything in their power to cushion the impact of the pandemic – and protect our children,” he said.

Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has affected 21.59 lakh people, and caused 1.45 lakh deaths in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

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