WASHINGTON/LONDON: The world’s richest nations prepared more costly measures on Tuesday (Mar 17) to combat the coronavirus that has infected tens of thousands of people, triggered social restrictions unseen since World War Two and sent economies spinning towards recession.
With the flu-like disease that originated in China racing across the world to infect more than 187,000 people, governments on every continent have implemented draconian containment measures from halting travel to stopping sport.
But while the main aim is to avoid deaths – currently at nearly 7,500 – global powers were also focussing their attention on how to limit the inevitably devastating economic impact.
In the world’s biggest economy, the United States, the Senate prepared to consider a multibillion-dollar emergency spending bill to offer relief from the pandemic, but the Trump administration pressed for US$850 billion more.
Airlines are among the worst-hit sector, with US carriers seeking at least US$50 billion in grants and loans to stay afloat as passenger numbers collapse.
Britain, which has told people to avoid pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres, was to unveil a rescue package for businesses threatened with collapse.
Budget forecasters said the scale of borrowing needed might resemble the vast amount of debt taken on during the 1939-45 war against Nazi Germany.
“Now is not a time to be squeamish about public sector debt,” Robert Chote, head of the Office for Budget Responsibility, told lawmakers.
QUEEN ELIZABETH TO MOVE
Underlining how the crisis has shaken even the most august of institutions, Britain’s Church of England suspended services while 93-year-old Queen Elizabeth was to move from Buckingham Place to Windsor Castle outside London.
France is to pump 45 billion euros (US$50 billion) of crisis measures into the economy to help companies and workers, with output expected to contract one per cent this year.
“I have always defended financial rigour in peacetime so that France does not have to skimp on its budget in times of war,” Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin was quoted as saying by financial daily Les Echos.
The European Union (EU) eased its rules to allow companies to receive state grants up to 500,000 euros (US$551,000) or guarantees on bank loans to ensure liquidity.
Such promised cash splurges did not, however, enable world share markets or oil prices to shake off their coronavirus nightmare after Wall Street on Monday saw its worst rout since the Black Monday crash of 1987.
The Philippines was the first country to close markets, while Europe – now the epicentre of the pandemic – saw airline and travel stocks plunge another seven per cent.
With various central banks around the world having cut interest rates to try and help beleaguered economies, investors fret that they may have used up their policy ammunition early with far longer to go before the coronavirus is curbed.
A global recession beckons, with parallels to the 2008 financial crisis, economists say, though many predict a quick bounce back once the outbreak clears.
EUROS, COPA AMERICA OFF
Sports events continued to tumble.
Pakistan suspended its cricket Super League after an overseas player showed symptoms of coronavirus, the Kentucky Derby horse race was postponed, and there was continued speculation over the fate of the Olympics in Japan.
Around the world, bad news was relentless.
Brazil recorded its first coronavirus death while Peru put its military on the streets.
Israel’s government authorized the Shin Bet security service to use cellphone-monitoring technology usually used for anti-terrorism to retrace movements of infected people.
Iran temporarily freed about 85,000 prisoners.
Daily life was turned upside down for millions worldwide.
“Everything has ground to a halt,” said Tiziana Marra, a wedding planner in Europe’s worst-hit nation Italy, where the epidemic has created havoc for nuptials.
“It is as if people are preparing for war,” said an astonished shopkeeper in Rwanda as panicked consumers clamoured to stock up on rice, cooking oil, sugar and flour.
“Prices have gone up – but still they buy.”