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Coronavirus Dispatches, April 1

April 1, 2020

By our staff in Asia

Timor-Leste (Photo: Nicola Nixon)

In Timor-Leste, the Dangers of Staying Home

By Pauline Tweedie

Timor-Leste confirmed its first case of Covid-19 on March 21, and the government was quick to enact measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Schools were suspended the next day, and in a country where 97 percent of the population is Catholic, the Church canceled Sunday Mass. Within a week the government declared a state of emergency, limiting gatherings to fewer than five, curtailing international arrivals, and instituting a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all people returning to the country.  

While the government acted swiftly to protect its citizens, confinement at home could be a frightening prospect for many of Timor-Leste’s citizens. The Nabilan Baseline Study revealed some of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world in Timor-Leste; the Covid-19 crisis, with its restrictions on movement, increased stress, and diversion of police and health resources, could be devastating to vulnerable women and children.  

Timor-Leste has some of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world. The Covid-19 crisis, with its restrictions on movement, could be devastating to vulnerable women and children.

As social activity slows, essential services such as shelters and counseling may also draw further out of reach. The Asia Foundation, through the Australian government’s Nabilan Program, works closely with essential-services partners in Timor-Leste to ensure that women and children have access and that front-line providers have the skills to protect themselves and their clients from Covid-19.  

The Nabilan Program started early to inform its partners about Covid-19 transmission and prevention and identified strategies to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on shelters and other services. This includes drafting guidance with the Ministry of Social Solidarity on receiving clients during the crisis, establishing a reception center for monitoring all new shelter clients during a 14-day quarantine period, and providing additional funding to improve water and hygiene in shelters.  

These simple, early measures can save lives and help women and children experiencing violence in Timor-Leste continue to have access to quality support. Meanwhile, like the rest of the world, the people of Timor-Leste wait and hope.

Pauline Tweedie is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Timor-Leste. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation

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Imagining a New Normal in Pakistan—An Open Letter to My Development Colleagues

By Sofia Shakil

Which parts of normal do we not want to go back to?  

Seizing the opportunity—a ghastly word at this moment—of a global pandemic that has brought a halt to all non-essential services, it’s time for us in international development to take stock, to ask what we should do differently when things, as they eventually will, return to normal.  

First, the fundamentals: A pandemic of this scale reminds us that anyone can be infected, that we are all in the same boat, regardless of our wealth, status, or global location. Yet there are those among us without adequate shelter or support, who are far worse off than we are, and there is no room for anything but care and compassion during times like these.

Second, we must think about the community around us, particularly those who must toil on, providing essential services, and those who struggle to get them even in ordinary times. We must ask how the physical and social infrastructure on which we all depend can be used and distributed more equitably—not just how governments and enterprises can finance and build more, but how we can better use and share what resources we have, built or natural. Social distancing may be something we wish to forget, but perhaps staggering, rotating, tag-teaming, and virtual collaboration are ideas for sharing our resources that we will want to keep. Already I am hearing from my friends and colleagues in China—from Chongqing to Changchun, Shandong to Shanghai—that things are gradually opening back up, yet people are cautious and even curious: instead of returning to the old normal, can we, as a global community, find a new way?

The most important question for our professional community is, what lessons can we apply from the Covid-19 crisis to the post-crisis era?

The third and most important thing, for our professional community, is to reimagine with our partners and stakeholders how our programs and practices should change and what lessons can we apply from the Covid-19 crisis to the post-crisis era. Access to public transportation, public health infrastructure, justice and social-protection programs—these really need a critical review, not just for this crisis, but for the future. If virtual courts for the most serious crimes can replace courtrooms that are closed for social distancing, can’t we rethink how justice is delivered under normal circumstances and spare the poorest among us from having to sweat for months outside courts and legal aid centers waiting for justice? If telemedicine can bring us care as we shut ourselves in, can’t it also bring basic healthcare services to those who have for so long been without? If we can rescue banks and businesses whose workforces are now staring at catastrophe, can they not share in their workers’ welfare through insurance and other programs, not just for Covid-19, but for the next crises, large and small, that will inevitably befall us in the future?

A fourth and final point is that the service sector, and especially the gig economy, will inevitably play a major role in the new normal. These segments of the economy have already brought innovative solutions, accessibility, and an openness that is vital for growth and equitable development. Yet today it is gig and service workers who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s impact. These frontline workers are building the foundations of a new economy, and we need to recognize them now and support them as we find our way to the new normal.  

Sofia Shakil is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Pakistan. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Pakistan, Timor-Leste

1 Comment

  1. Interesting!

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