World crisis talks as virus toll tops 21,000

Image: 123RF/lightwise

World leaders were set to hold online crisis talks yesterday  on the coronavirus pandemic that has forced three-billion people into lockdown and claimed more than 21,000 lives.

With the disease tearing around the globe at a terrifying pace, warnings are multiplying over its economic consequences, and experts are saying it could cause more damage than the Great Depression.

Amid squabbling between the leaders of China and the US over who is to blame, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called for the world to act together to halt the menace.

“Covid-19 is threatening the whole of humanity — and the whole of humanity must fight back,” Guterres said, launching an appeal for $2bn to help the world's poor.

“Global action and solidarity are crucial,” he said.

The global lockdown — which rolled through India’s huge population this week — tightened further yesterday as Russia announced it was grounding all international flights.

Economists say the restrictions imposed around the world to fight the virus could cause the most violent recession in recent history.

“The G20 economies will experience an unprecedented shock in the first half of this year and will contract in 2020 as a whole,” ratings agency Moody’s said.

Unemployment rates are expected to soar — as much as 30% in the US, according to  St Louis Federal Reserve president James Bullard.

Europe will also suffer.

“We think the unemployment rate in the eurozone will surge to about 12% by the end of June, giving up seven years’ worth of gains in a matter of months,”   David Oxley of London-based Capital Economics said.

Leaders of the G20 major economies were due to hold a virtual huddle later yesterday in the shadow of such dire predictions.

“As the world confronts the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges to health care systems and the global economy, we convene this extraordinary G20 summit to unite efforts towards a global response,”   the king of Saudi Arabia tweeted. Saudi currently holds the rotating G20 presidency.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said richer nations needed to offer support to low and middle income countries, including those in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The devastating effect on poorer countries was laid bare yesterday, when the Philippines announced that nine front line doctors had died after contracting Covid-19.

Three large Manila hospitals said this week they had reached capacity and would no longer accept new coronavirus cases.

Hundreds of medical staff are undergoing 14-day self-quarantine after suspected exposure, the hospitals said.

The death toll from the virus, which emerged in China late last year, continued to grow, with the US becoming the sixth country to hit four figures.

At least 1,050 people are now known to have died in the US, with almost 70,000 confirmed infections, a tally by Johns Hopkins University showed, while globally the number of infections is closing in on half a million.

The rocketing infection rate in the US has sparked a rush to buy weapons, gun store owners said, with customers panicking about social breakdown.

About half  the US population is under lockdown, but President Donald Trump said he would decide soon whether unaffected parts of the country can get back to work.

“We want to get our country going again,” Trump said.

“I'm not going to do anything rash or hastily.

“By Easter we’ll have a recommendation and maybe before Easter.”  — AFP