It is clear that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will have severe global health, social, and economic impact on people and economies. To date, the science and statistics indicate that while the youth and children are not bearing the brunt of the COVID-19, measures to curb the spread of the virus, will impact the youth very severely. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 99 per cent of the children and youth under 18 years worldwide (2.34 billion) is living in one of the 186 countries with some form of renewed movement restrictions in place occasioned by the COVID-19 second wave.
As a result many academic institutions and institutions of higher learning have been closed to curb the spread of COVID-19 in those institutions. This has disrupted the education of more than 1.57 billion (91%) students worldwide. UNICEF records that over 1 billion children and youth are out of school globally, due to the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has catalysed job losses and can be expected to lead to adjustments post-pandemic with further losses. The impact therefore is causing a facing massive demographic shifts, with a so-called youth dividend, will be severe. If left unaddressed, the impact of the COVID-19 on the youth will perpetuate socio-economic problems of the youth, and ultimately undermine growth and development prospects on the continent.
As a global response post-COVID-19 recovery is needed, the impact of COVID-19 can be best addressed through multilateralism and collective response. ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has re-emphasized the importance of a multilateral approach to sustainable development, as well as the importance of combining social, economic and environmental priorities.’
The youth should be at the centre of the post-COVID-19 recovery plans. Sectors like tourism, ecommerce, information and communication technology, and other services show potential for large scale productivity growth and job creation. Young people are already stepping up as entrepreneurs and leaders in these sectors. They need access to relief capital to help them to mitigate the effects of the raging pandemic to restart and grow their businesses.
Innovative financial instruments, technical assistance provision in terms of other business-related support from both the public and private sector players should concertedly help in this effort.
Efforts similar to what we saw in Public-private partnerships (PPPs) that were developed to bring forth a COVID-19 vaccine or related pharmaceutical products offer lessons in creating shared value. For example, Germany, France, Italy and Netherlands formed an Inclusive Vaccine Alliance to negotiate with potential developers and manufacturers for the COVID-19 vaccine, and want to involve the European Commission in the negotiations. These governments signed an agreement with AstraZeneca (which has just been cleared to disperse and administer the vaccine) – a British pharmaceutical firm – to supply hundreds of million doses of its COVID-19 vaccines to the EU. Public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organisations through initiatives such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) are ‘working together to accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and enable equitable access to these vaccines for people during outbreaks.’ Creating shared value across stakeholders, should also bridge the social divides and actively engage the youth.
Lastly, governments should actively seek to partner with and support youth initiatives and projects across the continental spectrum to help them fight off the impact that has been occasioned by the pandemic. There is need to recognize the enormous potential of Europe’s youth – they have an important role to play in Europe’ post-COVID-19 recovery.