Drop in willingness to get COVID-19 vaccine attributed to lack of exposure to ‘how bad it really is’, researcher says


Australia’s success at suppressing the COVID-19 pandemic could be behind a decline in people’s willingness to be vaccinated against the virus, according to a university researcher.

Central Queensland University research professor Corneel Vandelanotte, whose team last year observed an evolution in people’s attitudes to the vaccine, found the willingness to be vaccinated against COVID-19 dropped marginally from 87 to 85 per cent in surveys conducted in April and August.

The findings have been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Another survey carried out by the university team in December showed that willingness dropped further to 79.9 per cent — but that was not included in the published study.

“I think we’re probably a victim of our own success here in Australia,” Dr Vandelanotte said.

Dr Vandelanotte said vaccine hesitancy decreased in Victoria between the first and second surveys, which could be because residents were more exposed to the effects of the virus.

Survey data was collected from 2,343 adults and a quarter of participants completed both surveys.

The authors found that willingness to vaccinate was lower in people with a certificate or diploma compared with a bachelor’s degree, as well as those who were not regular users of traditional media and women.

Dr Vandelanotte said the survey did not examine why people were hesitant, but he had his theories.

“The longer this goes on, the longer it takes for people to actually get their hands on the vaccine and the more they’re exposed to this misinformation.”

This meant misinformation spread and became more effective over time at putting people off the vaccine, Dr Vandelanotte explained.

He said research was needed to discover why specific groups were more hesitant than others, which would allow targeted education campaigns to be carried out.

Jessica Kaufman, a research fellow with the Vaccine Uptake Group at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said a number of studies showed vaccine hesitancy had increased slightly, with rates of about 30 per cent.

She said younger women and people from culturally and linguistically diverse groups had higher levels of hesitancy.

“Or, they might be pregnant and have questions around pregnancy and the vaccine.”

She said people in different culturally and linguistically diverse groups might not be able to access clear and well-translated information delivered by trusted spokespeople.

“We are still trying to figure out where those pockets of hesitancy are and the best way to address that,” Dr Kaufman said.

Mass media campaigns were useful for raising general awareness, but they were not necessarily the best way to answer people’s more nuanced questions, according to Dr Kaufman.

Dr Kaufman said more could be done to engage those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to engage with governments.

“Sometimes it’s a little bit more time-consuming to translate and adapt and tailor information to different groups, but it’s critically important,” she said.

As for Australia being a victim of its own success with diseases, Dr Kaufman agrees this is an issue for vaccine uptake.

“I think we see exactly that happen with a lot of routine childhood vaccines and childhood diseases,” she said.

“For some people, that really reduces their willingness to vaccinate.

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Central Americans Are Fleeing Bad Governments


In January, thousands of people gathered in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula to form a migrant caravan to travel north. “¡Fuera, Juan Orlando, fuera!” they chanted, referring to Honduras’s notoriously corrupt president. “Get out, Juan Orlando, get out!”

Honduras is one of the world’s poorest countries. It is also one of the most violent, especially for women. And along with its neighbors in northern Central America, it had just been devastated by two supposedly once-in-a-century storms that made landfall within 15 miles and two weeks of each other in November 2020.

All these factors help explain why tens of thousands of Hondurans flee their country every year. But the cry from those risking everything on a perilous journey through Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S. border pointed to a more fundamental driver of irregular migration from the region—the pervasive governance failures that have long plagued Honduras and its neighbors. To stem migration from Central America, previous U.S. administrations emphasized economic prosperity and security initiatives and failed to prioritize governance. The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden will have to try something new if it hopes to keep migration from the region at manageable levels. It will have to put governance first.

THE GOVERNANCE DEFICIT

Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are not just poor and violent; they are beset by corruption and ineffectual, often predatory governance. On nearly all of the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, including the effectiveness of government, rule of law, and control of corruption, countries in northern Central America lag well behind even their Latin American and Caribbean peers. And their citizens know it. Around the time the January caravan formed in San Pedro Sula, a public opinion survey revealed that even in a pandemic, an economic collapse, and the disastrous wake of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, more Hondurans—40 percent—identified corruption as the biggest problem facing the country than any other issue. Just 23 percent said unemployment and 12 percent said COVID-19.

Hondurans are not alone in decrying corruption. According to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived corruption levels, El Salvador and Guatemala rank 104 and 149, respectively. In Latin America’s benchmark public opinion survey, Latinobarómetro, Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans routinely identify governance failures as among the most significant challenges facing their countries. In 2018, for example, no civilian governmental institution in any of these three countries enjoyed the confidence of more than 35 percent of the population, and most topped out in the teens and 20s. Satisfaction with democracy was even lower, at 11 percent in El Salvador, 18 percent in Guatemala, and 26 percent in Honduras.

Governance failures of this magnitude, and especially the predatory corruption that defines it, drive irregular migration. One 2019 study, for example, found that people are more likely to want to emigrate when they experience corruption firsthand. Another recent paper found that governance failures also sap populations of hope, and those without hope are most likely to set out on perilous migratory odysseys. Against that backdrop, it is no surprise that during the past decade, nearly three million Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans—or nearly eight percent of their combined populations—abandoned their countries in search of a better future.  

IN THE MIX, NOT IN THE LEAD

For decades, the United States has lurched from one crisis management approach to another in northern Central America. During the Cold War, the United States provided El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras with billions of dollars in military assistance and economic aid as part of its proxy wars with the Soviet Union. Then, in the early 1990s, El Salvador and Guatemala signed historic peace agreements that ended decades-long civil wars. The United States initially sought to help these governments consolidate democratic governments with rule-of-law institutions but abandoned its efforts too quickly. In El Salvador, for instance, Washington precipitously reduced assistance to the fledgling civilian national police force and ramped up deportations of undocumented migrants convicted of serious crimes in the United States, seeding criminal gangs that continue to target civilians across northern Central America to this day.

It was not until disaster struck that Washington reengaged with the region. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch claimed 11,000 lives, most of them in Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. In response, the administration of President Bill Clinton provided nearly $1 billion in disaster and reconstruction assistance, much of it focused on physical infrastructure.

When President George W. Bush came into office, Washington shifted its focus first to free trade and then to citizen security. The Bush administration negotiated and ratified the Central America Free Trade Agreement, which reduced tariffs for Central American products entering the United States (and vice versa). Washington then devised what would become the Central America Regional Security Initiative, which sought to enhance public security and other rule-of-law institutions across the region. Although neither approach was explicitly designed to reduce Central American migration, both attempted to enhance stability by promoting prosperity and security. But both fell short, as neither adequately prioritized governance reforms.

Honduran migrants to the United States in Esquipulas, Guatemala, January 2020

Fabricio Alonso / Reuters

President Barack Obama’s administration changed tack once again, seeking to improve the region’s fortunes economically. In 2014, after nearly 70,000 unaccompanied Central American children arrived at the U.S. border, the Obama administration unveiled its Strategy for Engagement in Central America and sought to bolster an initiative by governments in the region called the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, eventually allocating $750 million in U.S. assistance to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala in 2016. Both the strategy and the alliance took a three-pronged approach: they aimed to advance prosperity, governance, and security on parallel tracks. Although governance was in the mix, it did not take the lead.

President Donald Trump abandoned his predecessor’s limited focus on governance in Central America altogether. In addition to adopting draconian efforts in an attempt to prevent migration, the Trump administration turned its back on the region’s most high-profile governance projects—including the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala and the Organization of American States–backed Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras. In so doing, it allowed corrupt institutions and officials to regain the upper hand across much of northern Central America.

GOVERNANCE FIRST

Over the past three decades, irregular migration from northern Central America has steadily grown, resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of non-Mexicans (predominantly Central Americans) apprehended at the southern U.S. border—from the low 10,000s in the 1990s to nearly 700,000 in fiscal year 2019. The Biden administration is now bracing for even more irregular migration across the U.S.-Mexican border. Through a series of executive actions, it has begun to reform antiquated border-processing infrastructure and the overtaxed asylum system, slowly unwinding Trump-era policies that eliminated migrants’ ability to claim asylum at the U.S. border and crippled the already limited capacity to deal with increased migration.    

Those changes are a good start, but Washington must do more to relieve pressure at the border. The Biden administration should send short-term humanitarian relief to victims of Hurricanes Eta and Iota and help countries in the region secure vaccines to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. And to get ahead of irregular migration, Washington should create programs to reunite families from the countries of northern Central America and expand legal channels for migration.

But even those actions will fall short if Washington does not prioritize governance across northern Central America. The Biden administration must not simply return to funding citizen security and prosperity initiatives. Instead, it must adopt a “Governance First” approach that aims to bolster the rule of law and the ability of governments to provide basic services.

The Biden administration is now bracing for even more irregular migration across the U.S.-Mexican border.

The United States cannot, of course, impose change. Rather, it should lift up local actors who are already responding to legitimate, popular demands for better governance. Where governments are open to reform, such as empowering national prosecutors to root out corruption and reforming laws to allow for the collection of more income and wealth taxes, Washington should provide political and technical support for those efforts. But where corrupt governing elites are resistant to change, Washington should partner with civil society.

Across northern Central America, civil society is often the only effective watchdog against government corruption and malfeasance. But those who offer this essential public service do so at great personal risk. The U.S. government—from the president to the desk officers at the State Department and all those in between—should engage civil society actors directly to afford them some measure of protection as they continue pressuring those who hold public office. Washington should also empower independent media across the region by prioritizing interviews with such outlets and ensuring their reporters are called on in joint press conferences with government officials, as the Biden administration has already done in its opening days.

Washington is well equipped to support local reformers and change makers. The United States should not be shy about using its economic and political leverage to help those officials who seek to do the right thing but are thwarted by corruption. And it should lead multilateral institutions and ad hoc groups not only in supporting prosecutors’ and courts’ anticorruption efforts but also in bolstering tax, customs, and procurement authorities’ ability to carry out their duties without succumbing to corruption. The United States should insist that governments across northern Central America install strong and independent inspectors general and political and technical advisers in their civil administrations and ministries. These officials can help insulate reformers within governments from corrupt influences.

Washington must do more to relieve pressure at the border.

In the past, the United States has abandoned brave civil servants who stood up to corruption across the region. The Trump administration turned its back on anticorruption efforts led by three former attorneys general from Guatemala and El Salvador, who have been forced into exile over the past four years. The United States must never betray such officials again. Instead, it should create a protection program to allow vulnerable officials and civil society leaders to seek refuge in the United States, signaling clearly that such actors are U.S. allies.

The United States must also make clear—through words and deeds—that it will not tolerate business as usual from corrupt, entrenched elites who undermine effective governance and reform efforts. Washington should pursue extradition in high-profile corruption cases linked to the United States. And in other cases, the Biden administration should aggressively use the so-called Engel List of corrupt individuals to be denied visas and access to the U.S. financial system, as well as the Global Magnitsky Act sanctions, which allow Washington to sanction any public officials who have committed human rights abuses, to punish corrupt elites.  

But the Biden administration should not stop at naming and shaming corrupt people and denying them access to the United States. It should work with European, Asia-Pacific, and regional partners to deny them safe haven in other countries. As long as they fuel corruption and undermine the rule of law in their home countries, these people—and their families—should find traveling, living abroad, and accessing the international financial system much harder than they do right now.

As attention turns once again to the U.S.-Mexican border, the Biden administration must heed the lessons of the past and put governance first. If it fails to do so, societies across northern Central America will continue to suffer and irregular migration will continue to rise.

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Morrison’s JobSeeker boost is stingy, mean and bad for the economy


Now contrast this, of course, to the generosity shown to JobSeeker recipients, who learnt this week they will receive a $50-a-fortnight continuing boost to their payments after more generous coronavirus supplements expire at the end of next month. They’ll pocket an extra $3.57 a day – about one-fifth of the benefit I’ve seen.

Some have dismissed the sum as little more than a daily cup of coffee. But, of course, welfare recipients rarely have enough spare change for such barista-made treats. That $3.50 can, however, cover one or two meals a day. Or the internet and phone bill for the month. Or car rego and insurance for the year. It’s not nothing. But it’s a pittance compared with what I have received and falls well short of what business groups, economists and social service groups had been calling for.

This is the first real increase to Australia’s jobless payment since before the last recession. But that’s not saying much.Credit:Janie Barrett

True, it is the first real increase to Australia’s jobless payment since before the last recession. But that’s not saying much. Since the days of the Howard government, jobless payments have been set to rise only in line with consumer price increases each year, not wages. Because wages growth usually outstrips growth in prices, this means jobless support has shrunk relative to both wages and pensions (which are, by contrast, indexed to wages).

Brendan Coates and Matt Cowgill at the Grattan Institute have run the numbers. Even after the boost, they estimate that “Australia will have the second-stingiest payment for newly-unemployed people out of all 37 members of the OECD, behind only Greece”.

“An Australian on an average wage who loses their job will find that JobSeeker and Commonwealth Rent Assistance combined add up to only a bit more than a quarter – 27 per cent – of what they earned when they were working,” Coates and Cowgill estimate. “An unemployed Canadian would get 62 per cent of the average wage. The average across the rich countries is 58 per cent, about double Australia’s new payment.”

Now, it’s true that many countries set their jobless payments relatively high initially but shrink them over time, to further induce people back to work. We’re just stingy from the outset. And our stinginess will only get stingier with time, due to the government’s inaction on revising indexation arrangements. As a result of this week’s decision, JobSeeker will continue to rise only with consumer prices, meaning recipients will fall further behind as wages pick up.

As things stand, JobSeekers are set to receive just 41 per cent of the full-time minimum wage and 66 per cent of the aged pension. For the more than a million Australians on JobSeeker today, they will continue to face difficult trade-offs, like foregoing medications or travel – the very things essential to their continued ability to search for and secure work.

On the upside, they will be able to earn slightly more side income – up to $150 a fortnight – before their benefits are withdrawn.

Now, the government is right to argue JobSeeker payments should not act as a replacement wage, but rather a “safety net”. The tricky thing about safety nets, however, is they have to be slung sufficiently high off the ground to ensure you don’t accidentally hit rock bottom when you fall.

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On the reckoning of economists and many others, even after this boost, our jobless payment does not do that. Which is a shame not just from a moral viewpoint, but an economic one too. The thing about giving money to those who have very little of it is that they are more likely to actually spend it. That money circulates back into the economy, driving jobs and growth. For me, the government’s largesse is just helping me to pay down my home loan faster.

The Morrison government had been doing admirably to put ideology aside to guide us through this economic and health crisis. It has fallen woefully short at the last hurdle. Its decision on JobSeeker is stingy and mean. People will suffer needlessly because of it. And so, too, will our economy.

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Former Clinton advisor warns of totalitarian USA: Constitution does not say it can be suspended for ‘bad disease’


by WorldTribune Staff, February 23, 2021 Coronavirus rules imposed by tyrannical officials are advancing totalitarianism in the United States, said a prominent feminist author and former adviser to Bill Clinton. “We’re really moving into a coup situation. That transcends everything you and I might agree or disagree on,” Naomi Wolf told Fox News host Tucker […]

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Bad conduct is tolerated, normalised. This is not a normal workplace


It starts innocently. I have heard of a Minister demanding their staff run their baths or collect their children from school. There was the story of the policy advisers being told to scoop up dirty gym gear and drop it at the dry cleaners. Another staffer told of being sent on a trip to Myer to pick up some underwear for a forgetful boss who had landed in Canberra without any jocks. While demeaning, most staff accept that these trivial tasks are part of the job.

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Then there are those more serious cases where staplers have been propelled at the skulls of an underperforming ministerial staff or young women are propositioned by old male bosses late at night.

But secrets are kept secret, and incidents are managed, not resolved.

Unlike normal workplaces, politicians can’t be easily removed, so these issues need to be managed. Their mandate from voters does not entitle them to bully or harass, but when they do, staff usually stay mum on the promise they’ll be looked after or rewarded for playing the game.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during question time.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

This culture cascades from the top, seeping into the foundations of Parliament House and creating a protective fortress for all those inside who misbehave. Senior staff can also become intoxicated by the closeness to power and start to play by the same rules.

A sense of loyalty creates a culture of silence and deference, which means even the poorest behaviour is concealed.

Not every politician or staffer adopts this attitude. Sadly, those that do outnumber the ones that don’t.

This in no way excuses the treatment of former Liberal Staffer Brittany Higgins who survived a brutal rape in a ministerial suite, just metres from the Cabinet room. But it does go some way to explaining how it remained under wraps for so long.

No one had to tell Brittany to stay quiet. Four weeks at Parliament House was long enough for her to realise that speaking up would not help her hang on to her “dream job”. She wants change and it’s the least she deserves.

Sadly, simply airing this shocking tale won’t change the culture of Parliament House. Promised structural reforms including a code of conduct and clear complaints procedures will help.

At the same time as Canberra embarks on the process of reform, Victoria has taken a massive step toward stamping out bad behaviour by proposing a new Commissioner to punish poorly behaved pollies.

In an unprecedented move, state MPs are considering a plan to appoint a new Commissioner who would be given the power to fine, suspend or expel MPs found guilty of misconduct. Until now, the only way to boot an unwanted politician from their seat was to vote them out of Parliament or for the house to debate their expulsion.

If this new system is adopted, it will send a message to MPs that title and rank are no safeguard against poor behaviour. Even if these powers are never used, the threat of expulsion should deter bad behaviour and begin the long, slow process of changing the culture.

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While the Victorian Parliament should be applauded for considering new protections for staff, the decision to appoint an unelected commissioner to potentially dismiss elected representatives should not be taken lightly.

As voters we will be told this power won’t be abused. There is little doubt expulsion will only be reserved for the most brutal cases of harassment and bullying, as it should be. But it risks setting a dangerous precedent.

MPs from both sides of politics believe that giving a Commissioner the power to bypass Parliament and expel misbehaving MPs will avoid the need for a public debate about private workplace matters which could be embarrassing and harmful to any victims. This is true. But the consequences of handing over power to a statutory body could be worse.

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Dogecoin: Is it bad? | Fortune


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Bad online experiences for children ‘invisible’ to parents during lockdown


Thirty per cent said they experienced unwanted online contact from a stranger, 15 per cent received threats or abuse, and 20 per cent received inappropriate material such as porn, disturbing content or violent imagery between March and September 2020.

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Ms Inman Grant said it was the type of content that “kids can’t unsee” which became more prevalent during last year’s lockdowns, when young people spent more time online for both remote learning and socialising.

Toby Dagg, head of the eSafety Comissioner’s investigations, said the unwanted contact children were experiencing ranged from “requests for nudes, sometimes very aggressive in very brazen ways, without any preparation, right through to very sophisticated long term grooming efforts”.

But he said there was an upside to the survey, which also found children have become more likely to take proactive action in response to a negative experience.

More than half of those surveyed (54 per cent) said they responded to negative experiences by blocking the other user, 43 per cent spoke to family and friends, and 40 per cent formally reported the other person.

Mr Dagg said that tendency towards self-policing and self-protection marked an effective cultural shift that was empowering young people to take control. Many were adopting the commission’s advice and improving their privacy settings.

However, he said the fact that young people were often the ones reporting inappropriate incidents to the eSafety commissioner implied parents lacked awareness about their children’s online lives.

“It suggests a lot of what’s happening to teens online … is invisible to their parents or guardian. It shows the importance of parents being aware of what their teens are doing online… in the same way they [are] in offline activities,” Mr Dagg said.

Of the children who chose not to make a formal report about a negative experience, 41 per cent ignored it, 34 per cent didn’t think it was serious enough to warrant a complaint, and 21 per cent thought nothing would change even if they did report it.

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“To me that’s the most concerning statistic. Children don’t have to suffer in silence,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“The focus this year is ‘start the chat’. We want parents to start talking to their child the minute they hand over the device.”

YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat remained children’s most-used social media services in 2020, but the popularity of each app has slid since the last survey in 2017.

Seventy-two per cent of respondents used YouTube, while just over half of young people (52 per cent) used Facebook, 57 per cent used Instagram and less than half (45 per cent) used Snapchat.

The portion of children using video app TikTok surged from 12 per cent in 2017 to 38 per cent in 2020, while messaging app Discord was used by almost one-fifth of those surveyed.

“The extensive use of technology is not just remote learning, which continues [after COVID]. They’re doing everything from researching, chatting, gaming, living their lives online,” Ms Inman Grant said.

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Job losses from virus 4 times as bad as ’09 financial crisis


GENEVA (AP) — Four times as many jobs were lost last year due to the coronavirus pandemic as during the worst part of the global financial crisis in 2009, a U.N. report said Monday.

The International Labor Organization estimated that the restrictions on businesses and public life destroyed 8.8% of all work hours around the world last year. That is equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs – quadruple the impact of the financial crisis over a decade ago.

“This has been the most severe crisis for the world of work since The Great Depression of the 1930s. Its impact is far greater than that of the global financial crisis of 2009,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. The fallout was almost equally split between reduced work hours and “unprecedented” job losses, he said.

The United Nations agency noted that most people who lost work stopped looking for a job altogether, likely because of restrictions on businesses that hire in big numbers like restaurants, bars, stores, hotels and other services that depend on face-to-face interactions.

The drop in work translates to a loss of $3.7 trillion in income globally — what Ryder called an “extraordinary figure” — with women and young people taking the biggest hits.

The ILO report expects a bounce back in jobs in the second half of the year. But that depends on a reduction in coronavirus infections and the rollout of vaccines. Currently, infections are rising or remain stubbornly high in many countries and vaccine distribution is still slow overall.

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Cricket Australia vs India, third Test at the SCG: Tim Paine has bad day in Sydney, day five, draw, highlights, video


Watch Day 1 of the Brisbane Test LIVE on Fox Cricket, coverage starting Friday!

Australia has been stunned at the SCG where India has pulled off one of the most remarkable rescue acts on these shores by drawing the third Test.

The result means the Border-Gavaskar series is still tied 1-1 heading to Brisbane, where touring teams simply don’t win.

That said, India was given almost no hope of salvaging a draw in Sydney on Monday — so why can’t it win at the Gabba to retain the trophy?

From the magic of day five Test cricket, to Tim Paine’s forgettable day, here’s five things we learnt from the third Test in Sydney.

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Jobs picture turns negative and there’s more bad news to come, economists warn


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A weaker labour market could factor into other economic statistics as well. The latest jobs report “offers the first concrete piece of evidence that the Canadian economy likely contracted in December,” said Nikita Perevalov, director of economic forecasting at Bank of Nova Scotia, in a report on Friday.

And COVID-19’s drag on the economy is poised to have longer-lasting effects.

The workforce participation rate dipped in December by 0.2 percentage points, to 64.9 per cent. The drop in labour force participation rates was “mostly comprised of male youth and working women, likely frustrated by the job search and staying home to take care of suddenly homebound children, respectively,” according to Leah Nord, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s senior director of workforce strategies and inclusive growth.

“The enduring impacts of the increasingly long-term unemployed and workforce drop-outs will cast a long shadow upon the recovery, as re-entry into what will assuredly be a very different labour market presents significant obstacles,” Nord added in a statement.

A recent report from Royal Bank of Canada’s economics unit found that, between February and October, 20,600 women “fell out” of the country’s workforce. Meanwhile, moves like Ontario’s recent extension of online learning for elementary school students will weigh on working parents.

“This trend of increasing employment that we saw through till November, we wouldn’t expect it to return anytime soon,” Nord said in an interview.

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