Economic devastation from virus looms on a Good Friday like no other

World | 10 Apr 2020 8:14 pm

As Christians around the world observed a Good Friday like no other, at home watching livestreams instead of at church, pressure was mounting on governments to restart some industries and fend off further economic devastation from the coronavirus.

Worldwide, the death toll headed toward 100,000, with the confirmed number of infected people topping 1.6 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. Another 355,000 have recovered. The true numbers are believed to be much higher because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and cover-ups by some governments.

In addition to the medical toll, the pandemic has sideswiped economies around the world. The head of the International Monetary Fund has warned that the global economy is headed for the worst recession since the Depression. The U.N. labor organization says the equivalent of 195 million full-time jobs could be lost in the second quarter alone.

A glimmer of hope came in Europe, where the 19 European countries that use the euro currency overcame weeks of bitter divisions to agree on more than half a trillion euros, or $550 billion, of support programs to cushion the recession caused by the virus.

Mario Centeno, who heads the eurozone finance ministers’ group, called the package “totally unprecedented... Tonight Europe has shown it can deliver when the will is there.”

As weeks of lockdowns were being extended in nation after nation, governments were being pressed to consider easing restrictions on certain businesses and industries.

The Spanish government was meeting to establish a 20 billion-euro fund to help small businesses and the self-employed cope with the economic fallout of the outbreak. Officials were also discussing what comes next for 47 million Spaniards who have been quarantined for four weeks.

After a two-week freeze of all non-essential economic activity, factories and construction sites in Spain can resume work Monday, while schools, most shops and offices will remain closed.

In Italy, the industrial lobbies in regions representing 45% of the country’s GDP urged the government to relax a lockdown on all non-essential manufacturing that was imposed two weeks ago.

The lobbies in Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Piedmont and Veneto regions said if their industries don’t relaunch “in a short period, the country risks definitively shutting down its own motor, and every day that passes the risk grows not to be able to restart it.”

Malaysia’s prime minister on Friday announced a two-week extension to the country’s lockdown until April 28 but said selected economic sectors can reopen in phases while following strict hygiene rules and travel limits.

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations endorsed several steps to fight the pandemic, including creating a COVID-19 response fund, sharing information and strategies to ease impact of a crisis that the U.N. says could shove half a billion people into dire poverty.

In a measure of just how fast the coronavirus is bringing world economies to their knees, a staggering 16.8 million Americans have lost their jobs in three weeks, with more expected to follow. The U.S. unemployment rate in April could hit 15% — a number not seen since the end of the Great Depression.

President Donald Trump brushed off fears the U.S. economy won’t quickly rebound, saying he had a “strong feeling” that “the economy is going to do very well.” The U.S. Federal Reserve announced it will provide up to US$2.3 trillion in loans for households and businesses.


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