In wealthy first-world countries, although social distancing hurts on a social and economic basis, it is at least feasible for a certain time. Basically every country world-wide has now implemented such measures.

Reports from outside the first-world, however, make it seem like this is a much more challenging policy to implement. Police in South Africa are firing rubber bullets at shoppers who are violating lockdown and in India there are literally millions on the march home despite the country's lockdown order. Staying at home and keeping distance is impossible in slums with huts and no running water. Furthermore, poor people also much less able to survive a period without income and poorer countries are less able to provide them with support during this period.

Is there good evidence whether or not current lockdown/social distancing measures are sustainable in poorer third-world countries? If not, are there any other options for such countries to fight global pandemic that can be sustained and enforced?

  • Related: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/52309/… Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 19:05
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    I strongly suspect that the answer is that most countries will just have to allow infection to spread, but I'm very much hoping to see a counter-example. Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 19:45
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    Covid-19 is mostly a threat to older people, but poor countries generally have high birth rates and therefore a young population.
    – MSalters
    Commented Mar 31, 2020 at 7:19
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    @MSalters, in the "first world" the elderly are more likely to die despite intensive care efforts or, if the medical system gets overloaded, they are less likely to get intensive care efforts. Without ventilators, the rates might differ.
    – o.m.
    Commented Mar 31, 2020 at 10:07

1 Answer 1


In many "poorer non-first world countries" it's going to be very challenging. People often need to work every day in order to "eat" the next day, which prohibits social distancing measures. They have a problem with the availability of sanitation - for hand cleaning. The density of the population in some of these countries is also very significant, which can provide an additional risk factor for a greater spread of the virus.

From past epidemics for example in sub-Saharan Africa, they needed a lot of mostly international humanitarian help. Medical systems in poor countries usually have little capacity to deal with a huge number of cases. They also don't have a way for effective testing for the virus, laboratories... The question is to what extent can humanitarian help be made available.

"Rich countries" and international organizations providing governance, medicine, and other resources are currently in the core of epidemics themselves. This crisis is also economically challenging, which adds prohibitive cost to invest in humanitarian help for poorer countries. IMF is currently planning to lend around $1trn to developing countries, and hopefully, G20 will also provide at least some humanitarian capacity to help them. From a political point of perspective, China can use this as an opportunity to extend its influence over developing economies requiring help with fighting Covid virus.

Prohibitive measures could also be used by some of the political regimes to tighten their grip on power which could lead to destabilization.

On the other hand for example in India, you have a huge pharmaceutical sector which makes medicine, which can help in providing antibiotics or other types of medicine which could be beneficial for sick people.

The virus could also be weakened by a warm climate, which is not yet scientifically proven. Population structure in poor countries is usually much younger, which is another benefit, although people can be malnourished and have different medical problems which could make things worse if they were to become infected by Coronavirus.

Sources, to read more: The coronavirus could devastate poor countries economist-coronavirus-in-india

  • There aren't any pharmaceuticals proven to help at this point of time. Some drugs show promise but nothing certain. So pills alone won't do much help, as far as we know. Commented Mar 31, 2020 at 14:52
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    @JonathanReez Sure but when you have antibiotics or even vitamins at your disposal, in general, it's considered to be a better case for India where you actually at least have those unlike in sub-Saharan Africa, where you may not have even those types of pills.
    – Ver
    Commented Apr 1, 2020 at 9:27

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