Many of the workers on the front lines of the pandemic lack insurance and basic social protections. Photo: Olha Zaika

The “informal economy” is often seen as primarily daily-wage laborers, such as in the construction sector or housekeepers, but it also encompasses vast numbers of workers in short- term, usually contract jobs in the formal service sector such as hospitality, retail, and transport. It also includes those working in the new gig economy.

Their work is often characterized by uncertainty, instability and insecurity. As opposed to those in business or government employment, they bear the risks of their work and receive limited social benefits and entitlements.

The Asia-Pacific region accounts for around 60% of the non-farm global workforce, higher than in Latin America and Eastern Europe, ranging from about 20% in Japan to over 80% in Myanmar and Cambodia. They are twice as likely as formal workers to belong to low-income households and often live hand-to-mouth. If they cannot work for extended periods, their family’s income is at risk.

The informal economy is not a relic of the past or a sign of backwardness. It is also not a consequence of the failure of modernization strategies. Today’s informal economy is an essential feature of global production networks. It operates in an environment marked by complex formal and informal economic links, global economic cycles, and domestic economic concerns.

For many in the informal economy, savings are either nonexistent or extremely limited. Typically, they lack employment security, healthcare benefits, sick leave, pensions, and severance packages. Only some of these low-income households are beneficiaries of social transfer programs or other formal insurance arrangements. And here also coverage and adequacy of benefits remain an issue. In short, informal workers earn their living without a safety net.

Without these protections, informal economy workers, especially the poor, face a wide range of occupational, safety, and health risks. They are disproportionally affected by natural hazards and human-made disasters. When affected, the poor tend to lose a larger fraction of their wealth, given their lower ability to cope and recover from disaster impacts. 

Even those whose employment is technically on the books, such as Uber drivers, face a raft of disadvantages. Being classified as independent contractors, many struggle to win unemployment benefits because their employers fail to pay insurance premiums or report wage data to state agencies.

Today, many at-risk informal workers are classified as “essential” to keep the economy going during the pandemic even though they lack basic labor protections.

The private insurance sector should see this as an opportunity to contribute to societal development by designing and offering fit-for-purpose healthcare provision, pensions, and insurance solutions for the missing middle. 

The extension of social protection or insurance to workers in the informal economy often concerns households already relying on informal support and risk-sharing. Insurers should gain insights from the interactions between pre-existing informal risk-sharing networks, social protection schemes, and formal insurance markets while designing new solutions. The design elements must reinforce rather than undermine the positive aspects of informal support mechanisms in risk management. 

Often the potential to build on community-based insurance like cooperatives and mutuals is overlooked. A thorough understanding of these mechanisms can help create positive synergies to manage the idiosyncratic risks. For covariate risks, financing the extension of risk protection needs to be done via risk transfer. 

Microinsurance provides a credible option to balance equity and sustainability. Post-disaster, microinsurance products can cover the cost of health care, deaths, and burials, loss of livestock or crops, or business assets. They can also support the business or income-generating enterprises while the overall system recovers. 

However, limited access to a range of risk management mechanisms and data prevents insurers from offering access to affordable insurance. A case in point is the challenge of developing business interruption products post-pandemic due to a lack of legal documents, proof of inventory and income, and insurance providers’ misperceptions about the client group. 

Today, many at-risk informal workers are classified as “essential” to keep the economy going during the pandemic even though they lack basic labor protections.

The COVID-19 outbreak and accompanying disasters due to natural hazards have exposed the challenges in protecting informal workers and vulnerable households in Asia.

In the new normal:

Mutuals and community-based insurance need strengthening through regulatory and supervisory oversight as they play a critical role in insuring the missing middle. In doing so, the women’s position as the households’ risk manager can be reinforced further and recognized at the community level. 
Governments should consider linking social protection programs with insurance to provide a safety net response. The use of digital technologies to target social protection programs towards households most at risk and targeting the female heads of families would be necessary. 
Subsidies do not automatically lead to high take-up, although evidence suggests that they expand coverage in different contexts. The role of smart subsidies needs to be further explored. And the same goes for smart technology.
The viability of insurance is a direct function of an insurer’s solvency of following a large-scale catastrophe or sequential disaster events. Well capitalized and regulated insurers can diversify their portfolios via reinsurance and help in growing this nascent market.
The design elements of new insurance products need to address the informal sector’s risks and the gig economy workers. They must also consider access to existing risk-pooling arrangements to offer optimal protection.
There is little awareness or understanding of the merits of insurance for managing large-scale disasters. More awareness-building is needed to instill trust and to involve women as change agents. Home is the best school, and the mother is the best teacher. In this manner, one can instill the value of insurance in an entire generation. At the same time, stringent action should be taken against those who are mis selling. 

To address the future of work, a shift in thinking is needed about private partnerships and putting the elderly, women, and youth at the center of loss prevention and building resilience for the households. This will be the most effective way forward for developing future protection solutions.

covid, covid-19, coronavirus, novel coronavirus, corona virus, covid-19 response, communicable diseases, infectious diseases, emergency response, health response, outbreak, pandemic, covid-19 prevention, insurance, informal workers, informal labor, social protections, health insurance, vendors, day laborers, contract workersArup Kumar ChatterjeeArticle

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Not soon after China revealed the discovery of SARS-CoV-2 in their country, scientists around the world began acting. This was a different type of coronavirus than had been studied since at least 1980.1

One difference is the gain of function potential capabilities the virus is believed to have2 that have been used in lab settings to alter the function of cells “as powerful tools to understand basic bacterial and viral biology and pathogen-host interactions.”3 The U.S. had banned this research in 2014, but in 2017 it was quietly lifted and4

“… the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that they would resume funding gain-of-function experiments involving influenza, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus [SARS].”

The novel coronavirus appeared to trigger a wide range of symptoms in people. Some had only a mild affliction; others were sick for weeks and still others suffered such serious respiratory debilitation that they required the assistance of a ventilator.5

Your Blood Type May Reveal Risk Profile

After the SARS outbreak of 2003, researchers found that one specific blood type, Type O, had a potential protective effect against that strain of the coronavirus.6 Scientists have also been looking at what genetic factors may impact infection and its severity for people exposed to SARS-CoV-2.

The home-based genetic testing company 23andMe released preliminary results from a study they conducted using the information of more than 750,000 people.7 Their early results suggest that a person’s blood type has an influence on their susceptibility to the virus.

In addition to the information they used from among the millions who have sent their DNA to the company,8 they want to add data from 10,000 hospitalized patients who are not already part of their database.9

The company reported that the percentage who tested positive for COVID-19 by blood type was 4.1% for blood group AB.10 The differences reported in the study showed that those with type O had a 9% or 18% lower potential for testing positive for the virus when compared to those with blood types A, B or AB.11

In a separate study, researchers found that individuals with blood type O Rh positive had the best protection.12 23andMe did not find any differences between the two RH factors, positive or negative.13 It’s important to note that data were collected from self-reported information, which may reduce the validity of this study.14

In an investigation from China, researchers compared the blood types of 2,173 patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.15 The results demonstrated that those with blood type O had a lower risk of infection and those with blood type A had a higher risk. The results of this study are early, and the researchers warn they should be used only as a guide.

A different group of researchers evaluated the health information of people who had respiratory failure; in addition to reviewing the data from a control group, they studied individuals who were patients at seven hospitals in Italy and Spain.16 In the final analysis, 835 people from Italy and 775 people from Spain who tested positive for the virus were included.

The researchers analyzed 8.5 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms, which are genetic variations.17 They found statistically significant genetic differences in blood groups. They also found a higher risk for individuals who have A-positive blood and a lower risk for those with blood type O.

It’s important to remember that the results do not demonstrate there is absolute protection or risk with blood type, only that those with blood type O may have a lower risk and those with blood type A may have a slightly higher risk. The results from Italy and Spain add to a growing body of evidence indicating that blood type has some impact on a person’s susceptibility to the SARS-CoV-2 infection.18

Laura Cooling from the University of Michigan said that the current data don’t match the epidemiology of the disease pattern in the U.S.19 She pointed out that blood type O is more prevalent in the population of African-Americans, who are experiencing a disproportionately higher number of infections.

This suggests that blood type may be less of a risk factor compared to others, such as comorbidities known to increase the risk of severe conditions and disease such as vitamin D deficiency, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.20

What’s Important About Blood Type?

Blood type has an impact on emergency care and transfusion; a successful transfusion requires that the person receiving the blood gets the same type from a donor.

Your blood type is determined by the presence or absence of antigens on the surface of every red blood cell. These give your blood specific characteristics, including blood type. The four major types that are determined by two specific antigens, A and B, include A, B, AB and O. Another factor, Rh, may also be present.

The most common blood types are O-positive and A-positive. The approximate distribution of blood types ranges from type O-positive at 38% of the population to type AB-negative at 1% of the population.21

At this time, it’s not understood how blood type may play a role in susceptibility to COVID-19. Professor Andre Franke from the University of Kiel is an author of the study from Italy and Spain.22 He found the gene to type blood is near a gene that controls a protein for a strong immune response.

The overreaction of the immune system, called a cytokine storm, is primarily what causes a massive inflammatory response and lung damage with COVID-19. Theoretically, this genetic variation may have an influence over the immune system and explain the link to blood type.

Consider These Risks Before Taking a Home DNA Test

The number of people using at-home DNA tests to track their ancestry, confirm their heritage or get information on blood type grew through 2019, as demonstrated by the large population that 23andMe used in their study.23,24

Although saw recent growth, that company, along with, which also collects your DNA, began losing sales in 2019. However, these tests are not risk-free. They still hold the data on everyone who’s sent them information, however.25 The potential use for DNA ranges from mapping your family tree and helping find genetic indicators to identifying health conditions and solving crimes.

The last two are usually done in highly regulated labs, while DNA to identify your family tree is not. The at-home test kit allows you to check your results online.26 In so doing, you have to give the company permission to store your information in their database. This is the same database 23andMe used to perform the recent comparison of blood type and COVID-19 infection.

Information may also be used in other ways, depending on the rules of the company. With some, your use of their services allows them to sell your genetic data to third parties without your consent and without profit sharing. Pharmaceutical companies, as an example, need large DNA data sets to develop new drugs.

These data are typically sold for millions of dollars, but those who provide the data realize none of the profits.27 That irony is compounded by the fact that consumers have to pay about $99 to get their DNA tested, which then becomes freely available for corporate use and profiteering, among other things, over which the donors have no control.

Your DNA is your most personal set of information, which can be used and manipulated in several ways. In an era when companies have difficulty keeping your usernames and passwords safe, it isn’t unrealistic to think your DNA data may also be at risk.

In 2013 researchers published a paper demonstrating that it was possible to identify people participating in genetic research studies by cross-referencing their data with information freely available on the internet.28,29 Scientists are excited about the potential information that may be gleaned from large DNA databases, but it poses a problem for your privacy.

Direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies are not bound by HIPAA regulations, which means your personal health information is not protected.30 Even if there is no leak, your genetic information may be used by employers, life insurance organizations and health insurance companies. In fact, in 2013, 23andMe admitted that the goal of their company was to collect massive amounts of DNA data to use without donors’ consent.31

Steps to Optimize Your Health and Support Your Immune System

It is helpful to know your blood type, but that is likely not a strong factor in your ability to withstand a viral infection. The number of people who are dying from COVID-19 lies somewhere between the World Health Organization’s estimate of 3.4%32 and a study in Nature Medicine indicating 1.4%.33

With many cases going unreported or untested, many of the mild and asymptomatic cases are likely not included in the figures. This means the death rate would be lower. In a study from Italy’s national health authority, 99% of the deaths in Italy were in people who had underlying medical conditions.34

Of those reported, 48.5% had 3 or more comorbidities.35 This points to the importance of addressing any underlying conditions you may have. It’s important that you work to optimize your health in ways that don’t also result in unwanted side effects or conditions related to taking a drug.

Comorbid conditions with higher rates of death and severity are cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic respiratory diseases and cancer.36 Of the five conditions in this list, four are significantly affected by metabolic dysfunction. The common denominator is insulin resistance, which is triggered by a diet of high amounts of carbohydrates and processed foods.

When your body is insulin resistant it is also not metabolically flexible. As Dr. Sandra Weber, president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, noted:37

“We know that if you do not have good glucose control, you’re at high risk for infection, including viruses and presumably this one [COVID-19] as well … [improving glucose control] would put you in a situation where you would have better immune function.”

What and when you eat has a strong influence on your ability to beat insulin resistance. Intermittent fasting promotes insulin sensitivity and improves blood sugar management. This strategy helps to resolve Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and other conditions affected by metabolic dysfunction. To read more about how intermittent fasting affects insulin sensitivity, see “Intermittent Fasting Instead of Insulin for Type 2 Diabetes.”

Researchers have also found compelling evidence that maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D helps to lower your risk of severe disease. Since scientists anticipate a second wave of illness in the fall, you have a known “deadline” to raise your vitamin D level to at least 60 ng/mL and up to 80 ng/mL by that time.

Importantly, research published April 28, 2020 showed vitamin D insufficiency is prevalent in severe cases of COVID-19.38 They also found 100% of people under age 75 admitted to the intensive care unit had vitamin D insufficiency. For a more in depth discussion of how your vitamin D level will impact your risk and how to optimize your levels see “Your Vitamin D Level Must Reach 60ng/mL Before the Second Wave.”

So, how do you go about optimizing your vitamin D level? First, you need to find out what your base level is, which is done using a simple blood test. An easy and cost-effective way of doing this is to order GrassrootsHealth’s vitamin D testing kit.

Once you know what your blood level is, you can assess the dose needed to maintain or improve your level. Again, the ideal level you’re looking for is above 40 ng/mL, and ideally between 60 ng/mL and 80 ng/mL (European measurement: 100 nmol/L or, ideally, 150 nmol/L to 200 nmol/L).

Next, you can fine-tune your dosage further by taking into account your baseline vitamin D level. To do that, you can either use the chart below, or use GrassrootsHealth’s Vitamin D*calculator. To convert ng/mL into the European measurement (nmol/L), simply multiply the ng/mL measurement by 2.5.

Along with intermittent fasting and optimizing your vitamin D levels, you’ll find a list of more strategies you can simply incorporate into your daily routine at “Want to Defeat Coronavirus? Address Diabetes and Hypertension.”

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Businesses should disclose climate risks to build the Net-Zero economy

Former Labour MP and now chair of Lexington’s Responsible Business Practice Mary Creagh explains why all businesses should confront the risks posed by climate change

The days when a company’s health and prospects were measured solely by financial performance are over. After the 2008 financial crisis, the 2015 Paris climate agreement and now the Covid-19 pandemic, investors, customers and stakeholders increasingly expect businesses to publish robust non-financial information to help them assess a company’s reputation, resilience and sustainability.

The coronavirus crisis is shining a light on social factors – how a business treats its employees, customers and suppliers – but challenges remain as to how to effectively evaluate the ‘E’ in ESG. While the government’s new Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) scheme will help investors measure how well a business is reducing its emissions curve, a company’s exposure to climate risks goes far beyond these metrics. To build a sustainable, prosperous, net-zero economy, environmental factors must be fully integrated into corporate strategy, decision-making and disclosures.

What are climate risks ?

The Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) categorises climate risks into two types: physical and transition risks.

Physical risks: Flooding is the greatest risk the UK faces from climate change, as the oceans warm and ice sheets melt. Global heating increases the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, storms, heatwaves and droughts. Farming, food, infrastructure, home building and insurance businesses are all vulnerable to supply chain and operational disruptions. In a 4C world, the current insurance business model ceases to exist.
Transition risks: Companies in high carbon sectors, who fail to diversify and adapt may see their valuations fall, as they are based on ‘stranded assets’ – e.g. oil reserves which can never be used in a 1.5C compliant world. These companies face increased compliance and diversification costs. Whole sectors may find themselves stigmatised, leading to decreased consumer demand and difficulties in accessing finance.

There is also a third, emerging risk: liability risk, which is when people who suffer losses from climate change take legal action to recover damages from those responsible.

What is the UK government doing?

The UK government has legislated to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Its Green Finance strategy wants to drive capital flows into sustainable investment and manage the financial risks from climate change, through increased transparency. In March, the Financial Conduct Authority announced proposals to improve climate-related disclosures by listed companies. The new rule will require all commercial companies with a premium listing to make disclosures compliant with the approach set out by the TCFD or to explain why not. There is every chance that these proposals will become mandatory in the near future.

The Prudential Regulation Authority has published a framework for practitioners to assess climate-related financial risks. Pensions Minister, Guy Opperman, has changed the law so pension fund trustees must set out how they will manage the ESG risks, including from climate change, to pension schemes. These changes herald a sea change in moving business and financial ecosystems to a more sustainable footing.

How should businesses respond?

Assessing a business’s exposure to climate risk is complex. Companies may feel overwhelmed, particularly if they don’t have in-house expertise. However, there are three steps a business can take to get started:

Ensure you are considering climate-related risk on the business (supply chain, raw materials, operational, flood, heat, water stress, valuation), not the other way around. Companies are used to disclosing their impacts on the environment. The next step is to consider how climate change may impact future business growth.
Assess the materiality of climate risk on your business through a formal assessment and stakeholder engagement process. The results can be disclosed and you can formulate the governance, risk management processes and targets your business needs, to manage and mitigate them. This will give investors and stakeholders confidence that you are asking the right questions and managing risks appropriately.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good – all businesses can make a start on disclosing climate-related risks in their annual report. Don’t be afraid to bring in experts to speak to your board and senior leadership team, and ask the hard questions and secure buy-in.

Finally, as the economy resets, remember that this is a business opportunity. The UK can show the world how to build and finance the green recovery. Consider what you have learned. How you build back better. And how health, nature, the economy and our climate cannot exist in isolation, but depend on each other for survival. Caring for the planet is now everyone’s business.


Mary Creagh is chair of Lexington’Communication’s Responsible Business practice

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McDonalds coronavirus employee maskLiam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images

Workers who are most at risk of severe cases of COVID-19 are likely to be the first who returned to on-site jobs, The New York Times reported.
Many receive health insurance through their employer and can not afford to lose it if they do not return to work, despite the health risks.
Despite the impact of the coronavirus, an AP poll found that views on healthcare have remained the same since prior to the outbreak. 
Many still prefer a private health insurance system over public government-funded ones. 
Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Employees who are most at risk for the coronavirus, will likely be some of the first to return to work so they can hold on necessary health insurance, The New York Times reported.

Last month, Patti Hanks, who is 62 and had recently gone through chemotherapy returned to work at a furniture story so she could hold on to her insurance. See the rest of the story at Business Insider

NOW WATCH: Inside London during COVID-19 lockdown

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Elon musk SpaceX hyperloopMike Blake/Reuters

Tesla CEO Elon Musk went on a profanity-riddled tirade against coronavirus shelter-in-place orders on Wednesday.
The company has been forced to close its main US car factory in California, posing a “serious risk” to Tesla’s business, Musk said. 
Musk is a billionaire, but most of his wealth is tied up in Tesla stock. If those share prices don’t stay at current levels, he could miss out on a big pay day. 
Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

There’s a twist to Elon Musk’s repeated calls to reopen America: He is on the verge of a $750 million payday, which might not happen if Tesla’s factories stayed closed.

On Tesla’s first-quarter earnings call Wednesday evening, the billionaire warned that shutdowns of the company’s main Fremont plant “should be identified as a serious risk,” before launching into an expletive-ridden tirade.See the rest of the story at Business Insider

NOW WATCH: How waste is dealt with on the world’s largest cruise ship

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SEE ALSO: Tesla turns a surprise profit despite coronavirus factory shutdowns

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