Newsletter Vol 1. Issue 2, Apr, 2020
Global Review of SDGs & COVID
19 Outbreak: Lessons for
While assessing the progress of SDGs in various parts of the world and its relationship between
COVID 19 intensity we observed that social and political factors, science (medicines and health
care) geographical location, environment performance index plays crucial roles in COVID 19
spread and intensity. We did not find a significant relationship between better progress on SDGs
and reduced mortality rate due to COVID 19. The present study indicates that the social and
political factors such as leadership policy decisions and public reactions are controlling factors
in 50% COVID 19 deaths. Science (medicines, health care) and immunity is a controlling factor in
30% COVID 19 deaths. Whereas geographical location and environment performance index is a
determining factor in about 20% COVID 19 deaths .
The Agenda 2030 for 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was adopted by all Member
States of the United Nations in September 2015. This Agenda is a plan of action to achieve
prosperity, social inclusion and equality and to preserve our planet and leave no one behind. If
we have to succeed, we need to undertake this journey together, learning from each other.
Effective follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda through peer learning is essential for
renewed action and progress in achieving the ambitious and interlinked SDGs. The voluntary
national reviews (VNRs), become a critical component of the review and implementation of the
Agenda 2030. High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development in its Handbook
for the Preparation of Voluntary National Reviews (DESA, 2019) provides guidelines for the
preparation and presentation of the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). In 2019, only 47
countries conducted VNRs. The VNRs are required to present its results to the HLPF of the
United Nations. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution no 70/299 which
gives powers to the HLPF to follow up and review the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development at the Global Level (UNGA, 2016). Sachs, J., et.al (2019) published the Sustainable
Development Report, 2019. Parallelly, the United Nations (UN, 2019) also published the
Sustainable Development Goals Report in 2019. Some of the important highlights of these two
reports are given below.
● The Nordic countries – Denmark, Sweden and Finland – top the SDG Index. No country is
on track for achieving all 17 goals. Many countries have not taken critical steps to
implement the SDGs. Trends on climate and biodiversity are alarming. Countries
obtained their worst scores on SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life Below Water), SDG
15 (Life on Land) and SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production). High-income
countries generate high environmental and socio-economic spillover effects.
Sustainable land-use and healthy diets require integrated agriculture, climate and health
● Human rights and freedom of speech are in danger in numerous countries Under SDG 16
(Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions), fair and transparent institutions are recognized
as objectives in themselves but also as important levers for sustainable development.
Eradicating extreme poverty remains a global challenge with half of the world’s nations
not on track for achieving SDG 1 (Sachs, J, et.al. 2019).
● Much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the social and
economic transformation needed to achieve 2030 goals. Financing; resilience;
sustainable and inclusive economies; more effective institutions; local action; better use
of data; and harnessing science, technology and innovation with a greater focus on
digital transformation are the areas that can drive progress across all 17 SDGs (UN,
● Progress has been made with regard to a number of Sustainable Development Goals
and their targets, and a number of actions. However, that progress has been slow on
many Sustainable Development Goals, that the most vulnerable people and countries
continue to suffer the most and that the global response thus far has not been ambitious
Meanwhile a pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan, China was first reported to the
WHO Country Office in China on 31 December 2019. Since then WHO and the States are working
24/7 to analyse data, provide advice, coordinate with partners, help countries prepare, increase
supplies and manage expert networks. The outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency
of International Concern (Pandemic) on 30 January 2020 (WHO, 2020). Coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a new virus. The disease causes respiratory
illness (like the flu) with symptoms such as a cough, fever, and in more severe cases, difficulty
breathing. It is suggested that you can protect yourself by washing hands frequently, avoiding
touching your face, and avoiding close contact (1 meter or 3 feet) with people who are unwell.
Coronavirus disease spreads primarily through contact with an infected person when they
cough or sneeze. It also spreads when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus
on it, then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. As on 24th April, 2020 there were 2,725,920 cases
of Covid 19 worldwide with 191,061 deaths and 7,45,905 recovered cases and the COVID 19
has reached more than 200 countries. Now it becomes obvious to understand the performance
of countries on various SDGs and its correlation with the COVID 19 cases and mortality
attributed to it. It is also essential to draw lessons, whether the performance on SDGs resulted in
less mortality due to COVID 19 and vice versa. The lesson from such analysis should benefit
humanity in preparing for any such future emergencies.
SDGs and COVID 19 Progress Chart
The progress chart provides an overview of global and regional trends towards the achievement
of the Sustainable Development Goals and COVID 19 spread and intensity. This helps readers to
visualize where they are and the levels of progress, based on some of the indicators, towards
targets and Goals. The data for most of the indicators is not available either at the national level
or at the global level. Even the United Nations also does not possess data for most of the
indicators. However with the selected indicators it becomes easy to understand the status of
the country or group of countries and the trend of the indicator. It is also possible to predict
whether the country will be able to achieve the goal or not within a stipulated time frame and
what will be the intensity of the COVID 19 outbreak in that region based on available data.
The available data for selected indicators on Sustainable Development Goals was collected
from secondary sources. The most recent data (up to 2019) for SDGs indicators and COVID 19
cases and deaths (April 17-18, 2020) was collected. We used data for some of the SDGs
indicators for global coverage from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Report
2029 (UN, 2019) and other national and international publications available online. Total 42
indicators were selected and provided in Annex-1. In one or two cases where accurate data is
not available we depended on the close indicators values. To get the most accurate and clear
picture of the performance of the countries and groups of countries and to avoid any confusion
we used 1-10 rating scale where 1 is very poor performance and 10 is excellent performance.
The poor performance was weighted from 1-4, Moderate performance from 5-7 and excellent
performance from 8-10 point rating scales. The rank of the country groups was determined on
the basis of the average score values. The highest score resulted in the highest ranking that is 1
to 4, moderate ranking 5-7 and lowest ranking 8-10. On the basis of average weight values The
average of the Similarly most recent data (17-18th April, 2020) for COVID 19 cases and mortality
attributed to it was collected from the worldometer website. The details of the selected
indicators, their weight values, ranking, sources of information and COVID 19 data is provided in
Annexures 1-3. The country groupings as decided by the United Nations Statistics Division were
used for preparing the charts and maps. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals were grouped
into 6 major themes namely (1) poverty (2) health and wellbeing (3) education, skills and jobs.
(4) a safe and fair world (5) sustainability and (6) environment. The visual representation of
country groups’ progress on SDG indicators vs the COVID 19 deaths were plotted in the graphs.
The world map was used to depict the progress of the country groups against SDGs and COVID
19 deaths/1Million population. To see the detailed data analysis Click Here.
Progress on SDGs and COVID 19
With the highest score Australia and New Zealand ranks number one on SDGs Performance
Index where COVID 19 death rate was 0.83/M. Europe and Northern America ranks second
where COVID 19 death rate was 84.36/M which was highest in the world. Latin America and
Caribbean ranked third and the Covid 19 death rate was 1,25/M. Eastern and Southeastern Asia
ranked fourth where COVID 19 death rate was 1.86/, Followed by this the world rank is fifth and
the COVID 19 death rate is 19.8/M. Northern Africa and Western Asia ranked six with a covid 19
death rate of 4.39/M. Oceania ranked 7th where COVID 19 death rate was 0.82. India ranked
eighth and marked by 0.4/M as a lowest COVID 19 death rate. Central and Southern Asia and
Sub-Saharan Africa ranked ninth and tenth respectively where COVID 19 death rate was 4.83
and 0.71/M respectively (Figure 47 and Figure 48). Based on the data and its analysis we can’t
find a significant relationship between better SDGs Performance Index and the reduced
mortality rate due to COVID 19 disease. As the COVID 19 mortality rate is increasing in various
parts of the world disproportionately one more cycle of data collection and analysis between
Covid 19 and SDGs Performance Index is suggested after the end of COVID 19 disease. The
analysis of the final results are shown in Table 1 and Table 2 below below.
Table 1: SDG Progress and COVID 19 deaths
Region SDG Progress Rank COVID 19 Deaths/M & Rank
Australia and New Zealand 1 7 (0.83/M)
Europe and Northern America 2 1 (84.36/M)
Latin America and Caribbean 3 6 (1.25/M)
Eastern and Southern Asia 4 5 (1.86/M)
World 5 2 (19.8/M)
Northern Africa and Western Asia 6 4 (4.39/M)
Oceania 7 8 (0.82/M)
India 8 10 (0.4/M)
Central and Southern Asia 9 3 (4.83/M)
Sub-Saharan Africa 10 9 (0.71/M)
Table 2: Progress on SDGs, Environment Performance and intensity of COVID 19 deaths
COVID 19: Regional Variations
Australia and New Zealand
Australia and New Zealand ranks number one on SDGs Performance Index and seventh rank
COVID 19 mortality rate. With more than 35,000km of coastline is Australia’s strongest
advantage in keeping coronavirus at bay. Australia and neighbouring New Zealand have been
successful in largely suppressing the spread of Covid-19 within their countries, in particular,
keeping deaths low. Australia, with a population of 25 million, has had just over 6,000 infections,
and 50 deaths. New Zealand, a country of 5 million people, which closed its borders the day
before Australia, has had 1,200 infections and so far only one death from Covid-19. Both
countries have enacted strict physical distancing regimes, planes have been grounded, workers
have been told to stay home, schools have been closed in some places, and entire industries put
into hibernation. In both countries, the majority of confirmed cases have originated overseas.
Community transmission remains, by international comparison, low– less than 10% of all
confirmed cases. And in both countries, the early decision, and the capability, to enforce a total
lockdown of borders has proven crucial, buying valuable time to prepare, and allowing both
nations to flatten the trajectory of their Covid-19 infection curves (The Guardian, 2020).
Europe and Northern America
This region ranks second on SDGs Performance Index and ranks top in number of deaths
caused due to COVID 19. United States President Donald Trump failed to prepare for the
pandemic. Though there were alarming bells he repeatedly kept on saying that everything was
under control. Not only Trump but many European countries also failed to act in a timely way
and some have death rates per million that are even higher than in the US (CNN, 2020). Though
the Government imposed lockdown in US and European Countries, Mr McDaniel the citizen of
US described this decision as madness. Few weeks later he died from COVID 19 complications.
In the past week, thousands of Americans in more than a dozen states have participated in
protests against “stay at home” orders that have shut down huge parts of the country’s
economy and precipitated a record rise in unemployment claims. What they said was that
America is “not supposed to be the safest place on the earth but it is supposed to be the freest”
(Financial Times, 2020) This indicates that both leadership and public reaction the rise in no. of
COVID 19 is failure of both leadership and the public in European and Northern America
Latin America and Caribbean
This region ranks third on SDGs Performance Index and 6th on COVID 19 deaths. Coronavirus
landed in Latin America on February 26, when Brazil confirmed a case in São Paulo. Since then,
governments across the region have taken an array of actions to protect their citizens and
contain COVID-19’s spread.Cities in Latin America, the Caribbean and around the world have
redoubled their efforts, innovated their practices, and focused on combating an unknown
enemy… that puts at risk very vulnerable sectors of the population such as elderly persons,
indigenous peoples, women, displaced persons, people experiencing poverty, prisoners, the
destitute and migrants who’s health is at risk in the face of the pandemic and discrimination
Eastern and South Eastern Asia
This region ranks fourth on SDGs Performance Index and fifth on deaths caused due to COVID
19 deaths. Many Asian nations are facing an increasing battle to stem the spread of
coronavirus, amid a World Health Organization warning that some needed to take “aggressive
measures”. Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines are among nations imposing strict border
controls. There were only a few cases in the South Asian subcontinent that were below 500 but
there were fears that the health system would collapse if cases increased. Some nations and
territories that had seen success in controlling the virus or slowing its arrival, including South
Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, have seen new spikes, amid fears people returning from abroad
are importing the virus (BBC, 2020). There are rich lessons to learn from COVID-affected
countries. For example, South Korea and Taiwan could manage to control the devastation with
the help of rapid tests and targeted solutions. Vietnam has no death from COVID-19 as on date.
China has taken help of digital technology to contain the spread of COVID-19 in other major
cities in the mainland. The common among all is the application of digital technology such as
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI-ML) in containing the COVID-19 transmission
and sharing data and information on COVID-19 on a real time basis (Prabir De, 2020).
Since first being recorded late last year in China, the Covid-19 coronavirus has spread around
the world, and been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. However,
differences in testing mean that the number of cases may be understated for some countries.
The severity of the death rate is shown in Map 1 below. There are speculations about when the
pandemic will last? It is said that the pandemic will play out 50 percent social and political, The
other 50 percent will probably come from science. The combination of vaccination and natural
immunity will protect many of us. The coronavirus, like most viruses, will live on—but not as a
planetary plague. Unless a vaccine is administered to all of the world’s eight billion inhabitants
who are not currently sick or recovered, COVID-19 is likely to become endemic. It will take a
vaccine to stop transmission. That will take time—probably a year from now (Lydia Denworth,
2020). Researchers in Singapore have prepared a mathematical model to predict when Covid-19
pandemic will end in different countries. The model predicts India will see 97 per cent decline by
May 22. According to this mathematical model, Covid-19 will end in early December this year
worldwide (India Today, 2020)
Map 1: COVID 19 deaths/Million worldwide
Northern America and Western Asia
Today almost every country across the globe is fighting against COVID 19. In Northern Africa
and Western Asia Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt and Iraq are the most hit countries. As far as
responses of the governments are concerned, almost every country has followed the WHO
advisories, but some like Jordan and Algeria have resorted to more stringent measures (Fazzur
R Siddiqui, 2020) Dr Tarkehi Kesaia, WHO Regional Director warns that while attention has
shifted to epicenters in Western Europe and North America, COVID-19 epidemics are “far from
over” in Asia and the Pacific. “Those are: finding, isolating and testing cases early, tracing and
quarantining contact quickly, and putting in place multiple public health interventions to place
physical distance between people to slow and stop transmission.” Takeshi also cautioned that
countries still need to prepare for large-scale community transmission. “We need to be clear
that even with all of these measures, the risk will not go away as long as the pandemic
As per the Johns Hopkins University Report there are 15 countries that have zero coronavirus
cases. such countries, which lie in Asia, Africa and Oceania. The Print (2020) These are the 15
countries that have the zero coronavirus cases. Of these 15 countries three are in Asia, two lie in
Africa, while the rest are island nations in the region of Oceania (The Print, 2020). Report also
notes that the virus also hasn’t reached Antarctica, where there is no permanent human
population. Some of the countries reporting zero cases are located in remote areas of Oceania,
such as the island regions of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, and thus were naturally able
to isolate themselves very quickly. The two African countries not reporting cases might not have
the virus, or might not have been able to detect it yet. But there is a lot of speculation that the
three Asian countries, among them landlocked ones with no natural borders, are likely not
reporting true figures.
Though the same information was available at the same time to all countries of the world, why
did India and other Asian Countries succeed while the US and many in Europe failed so badly?
The answer by Jeffrey Sachs (CNN, 2020) is national leadership and public health readiness,
strict lockdown, tracing through the Police, testing, and isolation processes. Government
screened the public for symptoms, asked them to wear mass, sanitise hands and maintain
social distancing. Health system worked 24×7 to identify and isolate potential Covid-19 cases
as early and quickly as possible (CNN, 2020).India has successfully controlled the transmission
of COVID-19 till date through well-coordinated steps and with the help of India’s
pharmaceuticals and health science; mass public awareness and digital systems; and a central
political command. South and Southeast Asian countries have been following a similar
approach in containing the COVID-19.
Central and Southern Asia
Many of the countries in Central and Southern Asia are under nationwide lockdown and
implementing social distancing measures, the coronavirus crisis requires a strong response to
minimise loss of life and economic recovery says Vice President, South Asia Region, World
Bank. He further added that South Asia will be hit hard as COVID-19 strikes. True, the scale of
the deadly epidemic across South Asia seems smaller compared to Western countries, but
since testing is limited, these numbers do not reflect the full extent of the crisis. The worst is yet
to come. In India alone, millions of migrant workers are spilling out of cities, spiking fear they’ll
carry the infection back to their villages; hundreds of millions of informal workers are left
without a job and are at risk of starving. As it continues to spread, COVID-19 is triggering an
economic fallout that will drive millions into poverty and further increase inequality (The World
The WHO (2020b) says that to date the number of reported cases of COVID-19 in sub-Saharan
Africa has represented only a small proportion of the global total, though cases are increasing
every week. This means that countries across the region have a critical window of opportunity
to minimize disruptions in malaria prevention and treatment and save lives at this stage of the
COVID-19 outbreak. Several African countries have reacted quickly and decisively to curb the
spread of the coronavirus, very much in line with international guidelines. However, the large
and densely populated urban informal settlements, poor access to safe water and sanitation
facilities, and fragile health systems pose a major challenge. Ultimately, the magnitude of the
impact will depend on the public’s reaction, the spread of the disease, and the policy response
(The World Bank 2020a).
Responding to Global Challenges
Data and information
The UN (2019) conveys that more than half of the global indicators, data are not regularly
collected by most of the countries or there is no established methodology to measure them.
This has a negative impact on the ability to fully understand Sustainable Development Goal
progress and challenges. Whereas the data on COVID 19 pandemic and related indicators is
available and updated every second worldwide and communicated through social, electronic
and press media. So mechanisms should be developed to make high-quality, timely,
disaggregated and open data and information which can be easily collected and communicated
by Governments, international organizations, the private sector, civil society and the general
public to make informed decisions relating to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
Science and Technology
As suggested by the United Nations besides data and monitoring, there is great potential to use
technology in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals especially in water and
energy, sustainable consumption and production, e-learning, urbanization and sustainable
transport and e-governance and the ending of corruption. Similarly, response to the COVID 19
pandemic requires a friendly relationship between scientists and policymakers and there should
be faster action to develop vaccines which must be shared universally (DESAUN, 2020).
The global community should emerge stronger from this crisis of COVID 19 and act in solidarity
to achieve the sustainable development goals. We should determine to prevent the crisis from
derailing sustainable development efforts while laying out a vision for the affected to build back
better (DGCUN, 2020). The World Health Organisation (WHO 2020a) along with world’s leading
digital technology experts developed digital technologies for population screening, tracking the
infection, prioritizing the use and allocation of resources, and designing targeted
responses.Similar technologies should be developed for other communicable and
Pandemic like COVID 19 and weather-related hazards can cause severe consequences for
health, agriculture, school, economic and sociopolitical systems. Apart from disasters, the
climate induced change in temperature, precipitation patterns and sea levels that result from
climate change have an impact on multiple Sustainable Development Goals.Building resilience
by achieving global goals is a critical way to build resilience. For example, a lack of education
puts at risk people’s chances of obtaining decent work that respects fundamental human rights,
as well as workers’ rights.
Gearing up for SDG Implementation
The United Nations suggests that the ability to strengthen the effectiveness of local action will
have a major impact on whether or not many of the Goals and targets are achieved. A number of
actions could be taken in this regard.
● Build capacities of elected officials and civil servants for SDG implementation.
● Empower local and regional governments through legal and financial framework
● Actions of local, state and central governments should complement one another.
● Devise Goal Monitoring Systems.
Though considerable information is available on importance and need to achieve SDGs, the
world community has not adopted and accepted the challenge of achieving SDGs through
whole-of-Government and whole-of-society approaches through effective institutions,
governance and skill sets. As per authors understanding more than ninety percent of the world
population is not yet aware of the SDGs. But in the case of COVID 19 almost everyone
understood that it is a pandemic and is one of the most dangerous challenges in our lifetime
with severe health and socio-economic consequences. Following actions are required.
● Identify policies that have an impact on several Goals at once.
● Special funding for SDGs and its Monitoring and Evaluation
● Capacity building of the public sector workforce in SDGs implementation
● Transparency and public participation.
● Multi-stakeholder action
Public awareness about Sustainable Development Goals is essential in order to change mindset
and mobilise society towards creative action. This can be done by governments, academia, civil
society, non-government organisations, business, industries etc. There is a need to step up
awareness-raising activities in the next phase of implementation. Fostering sustainable and
long-term behaviour change with the younger generations, including through integrating the
Goals into education curricula, is important (UN 2020).
SDG Agenda and COVID 19: Lessons for Humanity
● COVID-19 itself is not good for any of the seventeen UN Sustainable
Development Goals. Human wellbeing, the economy and the environment are all
interrelated, and the pandemic is certainly not helping us achieve our goals for
protecting them. However, the pandemic is teaching us lessons in human
behaviour that could bring us closer to these goals in the future” -Madhur Anand
● We are confronted with the true uncertainty of human existence and the true
vulnerability of human life. How often have so many of us believed that we are
supreme masters of the world around us. We often pretend that we are in control
of our destinies? The Covid-19 pandemic shows us how wrong we were. It forced
us to ask.. What are we here for? What have we done with our lives? What do we
yet wish to do if given the opportunity? -Dennis J Snower
● During this chaos, we realized the weight of humanity, the implications of our
actions and how we all are connected. While we wait for borders to be opened,
so that we can go back home in the comfort of our bed, we hear the shouts of
refugees louder, we ’empathize’ with those who have been uprooted from their
home, and force to flee, we understand their pain and suffering because we know
how it feels” -Yeshna Dindoyal.
● In India, high-quality online education can replace third-rate education in
third-rate colleges. Virtual classrooms can be expanded without concerns of
physical space for a number of students. Large online classrooms can be further
broken into smaller groups of students with trained teachers who can facilitate
online discussions. Covid is teaching us the virtues of virtual space. Let’s adopt
them to reduce pollution and guard against the next pandemic. -Neeraj Kaushal.
● We can use this moment to look forward and seek ways to make society more
equitable and resilient. This is a time to “reassess business as usual in every
dimension, including those that drive climate change. -Rafael Reif.
● Engage affected communities from the beginning in all response measures—to
build trust, combat all forms of stigma and discrimination,ensure access to free
or affordable screening, testing and care, remove barriers to people protecting
their own health, individuals should not be criminalized for breaching restrictions,
Countries must work to support each other and support and protect health care
workers and frontline warriors. -UNAIDS
● Our wellbeing is closely tied to the health of the planet. Despite the many warning
signs, humans have become a geophysical force as we continue to destroy,
pollute and poison on a massive scale the very foundation we depend on for
survival and wellbeing. -George Kell.
● Remote work is the norm: Among 805 organizations responding, 88% now
encourage or require employees to work from home, regardless of whether or not
they show coronavirus-related symptoms. -Jakie Wiles
● Trust experts: As the significance of the pandemic has dawned on us, the value
of knowledge has become increasingly clear. The advice of epidemiologists has
gone viral (we’ve all seen the “flatten the curve” meme), and doctors have been
held up as heroes. A greater trust in experts of all types takes us in the right
direction. -Victoria Crawford.
Present study reveals that till date no significant relationship between the progress on SDGs and
reduced COVID 19 deaths is found. The study indicates that social and political factors like
leadership, policy decisions (sealing borders, lockdown, personal distancing, free ration,
awareness etc.) are controlling factors in about 50% COVID 19 mortality. Remaining 50%
controlling factors include science (healthcare, medicines, immunity etc), geographical location,
and environmental performance. The regions like Australia and New Zealand, Eastern and South
eastern Asia, Oceania, Northern America and Caribbean have natural shields in the form of rich
ecosystems in their surroundings which reduce the intensity of the COVID 19 spread. The
Environment Performance of these regions is also appreciable. Northern America and Europe
have a disadvantage of its geographical location where temperature remains low compared to
other parts of the world where COVID 19 deaths are highest in the world.
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