The world is grappling with the unintended consequences of fighting the virus.
The coronavirus is wreaking havoc on people’s health around the world in ways that at first glance have little to do with the devastating primary effects of the virus.
The United Nations is warning of new risks to children and a subsequent plague of mental illness. And national governments are noting the unintended consequences of lockdowns and other restrictions, including a rise in domestic violence. In Mexico, a decision to ban alcohol sales resulted in scores of deaths after people drank tainted homemade alcohol.
Millions of children are at risk of dying, the United Nations warned on Wednesday, not of Covid-19, but of preventable causes. Unable to access care at hospitals straining to fight the virus, more than 1 million children aged 5 or younger will needlessly die every six months, Unicef said in a report.
The World Health Organization, the global health body that has been coordinating worldwide efforts to combat the disease, warned on Thursday of a looming mental illness crisis, the result of “the isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil,” brought on by the pandemic.
Millions of children are at risk of dying of preventable diseases because health services are overtaxed.
Unicef said Wednesday that 1.2 million children in more than 100 countries are at risk of dying from preventable causes every six months because of health services that are overstressed or curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic
The figure is in addition to the 2.5 million children aged 5 or younger who already die every six months in 118 low- and middle-income countries.
Put another way, the roughly 13,800 young children who die every day will be joined by more than 6,000 whose lives could have been saved.
Unicef said it had based the estimate on a study published in the Lancet Global Health journal by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“Under a worst-case scenario, the global number of children dying before their fifth birthdays could increase for the first time in decades,” Henrietta Fore, the Unicef executive director, said in a statement about the estimate.
The spillover effects of Covid-19 have also heightened the threat to expectant mothers in these countries. Unicef said an additional 56,700 maternal deaths could occur in just six months, in addition to the 144,000 deaths that already take place in the same countries in that time period.
The 10 countries that could potentially have the largest number of additional child deaths, according to the Unicef estimate, are: Bangladesh, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and Tanzania.
At least 70 people have died across Mexico since late April after drinking tainted alcohol, a rash of deaths officials attributed to the imposition of dry laws meant to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Among the dead were at least 20 residents of a poor mountain town who consumed a cheap, popular moonshine.
As the outbreak has worsened in Mexico, some local and state governments have banned the sale of alcohol to discourage people from gathering in groups or having parties.
The federal government has also declared breweries as nonessential businesses, forcing them to shut down and leading to widespread beer shortages.
These restrictions, officials say, may have driven more people than usual to buy alcohol on the black market.
Mexico already had a robust illegal trade in alcoholic beverages that have been adulterated or produced under unregulated conditions, and in the past, Mexicans have been sickened and even killed by tainted alcohol.
But the surge of alcohol-related deaths in the past two weeks is unusually high.
The condition, called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, has been reported in about 100 children in New York State, including three who died, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said this week. Cases have been reported in other states, including Louisiana, Mississippi and California, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it will soon issue an alert asking doctors to report cases of children with symptoms of the syndrome.
In the new study, published on Wednesday in the journal Lancet, doctors in Italy compared a series of 10 cases of the illness with cases of a similar rare condition in children called Kawasaki disease.
The authors found that over the five years before the coronavirus pandemic — January 2015 to mid-February 2020 — 19 children with Kawasaki disease were treated at the Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital, which has an advanced pediatric department, in the Bergamo province.
But during the two months from February 18 to April 20 alone, the hospital, which is at the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak, treated 10 children with similar hyper-inflammatory symptoms.
Ten cases in two months — about 30 times the rate of the Kawasaki disease cases, which occurred at a pace of about one every three months — suggests a cluster that is driven by the coronavirus pandemic, especially since overall hospital admissions during this time were much lower than usual, the authors said.
The tears have flowed freely this month at a nursing home in Wassenaar, a coastal community in the Netherlands, and for a rare moment in the midst of a pandemic, they were tears of joy.
As the coronavirus continues to take a disastrous toll on nursing homes across the world, the residents of this home have had the rare opportunity to see their families in person, though still separated by a pane of glass, thanks to the ingenuity of staff.
After nursing homes across the country closed to visitors in March, Willem Holleman, the nursing home director came up with the idea of installing a cabin in the yard where residents and their family members can meet without the risk of infection. That, he said, “has made all the difference.”
The cabin is divided by a glass wall and has two entrances. On one side, an elderly nursing home resident walks in with the help of one of the staff. On the other side, a maximum of two family members can enter the cabin, after having disinfected their hands. An intercom makes it possible for the family to communicate clearly through the glass wall.
“The first visit in the cabin was very special,” Mr. Holleman said. “Two daughters came to see their mother for the first time after three weeks. All three of them sobbed.”
Over half of all coronavirus deaths in Europe have been in nursing home, data suggests, and the elderly are especially vulnerable to the virus. There have been no coronavirus cases at the home, Mr. Holleman said, and residents there range in age from 75 to 101.
Mr. Holleman said he was amazed at how the idea took off, and spread throughout the Netherlands to other nursing homes. For now, the facility is allowing four half-hour visits per day. All the slots have been booked up through May.
“Of course we all prefer to hug each other, and walk outside while holding hands,” Mr. Holleman said. “This is second best.”
Reporting contributed by Russell Goldman, Rick Gladstone, Pam Belluck, Niraj Chokshi, Kirk Semple, Claire Moses