World leaders hold online Covid-19 crisis talks
World leaders held online crisis talks on Thursday 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, with experts saying it could cause more damage than the Great Depression.
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.
The rocketing infection rate in the US has sparked a rush to buy weapons, gun store owners said, with customers panicking about social breakdown.
Around half of the US population is under lockdown, but President Donald Trump said he would decide soon whether unaffected parts of the country could get back to work.
“We want to get our country going again,” Trump said.
The White House, which has been criticised for its lacklustre response to the mushrooming crisis, has repeatedly lashed out at Beijing over the disease.
On Wednesday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Group of Seven powers were united against China's “disinformation” campaign.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson infuriated Washington by suggesting on Twitter that US troops had brought the virus to Wuhan, the metropolis where it was first detected late last year.
Scientists believe the new coronavirus came from a market that butchered exotic animals.
But any notion of unity after the video conference among the G7, which also includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, was dashed by the lack of a joint statement — often a formality at such gatherings.
Reports suggested the statement was scuttled by Pompeo's insistence that it use the term “Wuhan virus” — a formulation frowned upon by medical professionals who say it is stigmatising.
Economists say the coronavirus, and the lockdown that has seen three billion people told to stay indoors, could cause the most violent recession in recent history.
Unemployment rates are expected to soar, particularly in countries where levels have recently been at historic lows, such as Britain and the US.
James Bullard, president of the St Louis Federal Reserve, has predicted unprecedented unemployment rates of 30%, while Europe can also expect to 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,” said David Oxley of London-based Capital Economics.
While wealthy nations including the US have unveiled mammoth stimulus packages, there has so far been no collective action plan from the G20, and concerns are mounting for poorer countries without access to capital markets and adequate health facilities.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged G20 nations to offer support to low and middle income countries, including from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Individual stories of hardship continued to emerge.
At La Paz University Hospital in Madrid, nurse Guillen del Barrio sounded bereft as he related what happened overnight.
“Many of my colleagues were crying because there were people who are dying alone, without seeing their family for the last time.” — AFP
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