World lead­ers to hold virus cri­sis talks

UN chief ap­peals for $2 bil­lion to help the poor

Manila Bulletin - - Front Page -

MADRID, Spain (AFP) – World lead­ers are to hold online cri­sis talks 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.

And 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 $2 bil­lion to help the world's poor.

“Global ac­tion and sol­i­dar­ity are cru­cial," he said. "In­di­vid­ual coun­try re­sponses are not go

ing to be enough.”

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 1,041 peo­ple are now known to have died in the United States, 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.

In Spain, the num­ber of fatal­i­ties sur­passed those of China, where the novel coro­n­avirus first emerged three months ago, mak­ing it the hard­est-hit na­tion af­ter Italy.

A to­tal of more than 20,800 deaths have now been re­ported in 182 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries, ac­cord­ing to an AFP tally.

Gun rush

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

“A lot of peo­ple are buy­ing shot­guns, hand­guns, AR-15 (semi­au­to­matic ri­fles), ev­ery­thing,” said Tif­fany Teas­dale, who sells guns in Wash­ing­ton state.

“A lot of peo­ple are scared that some­one is go­ing to break into their home... to steal cash, their toi­let pa­per, their bot­tled wa­ter, their food.”

Around half of 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,” said Trump, who had been tout­ing a strong US econ­omy as he faces an elec­tion in Novem­ber.

The White House, which has been crit­i­cized for its lack­lus­ter 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 spokesman in­fu­ri­ated Wash­ing­ton by sug­gest­ing on Twitter that US troops brought the virus to Wuhan, the me­trop­o­lis where it was first de­tected late last year.

‘Crazy talk’ Sci­en­tists be­lieve the new coro­n­avirus came from a mar­ket that butchered ex­otic an­i­mals.

“Ev­ery one of the na­tions that were at that meet­ing this morn­ing was deeply aware of the dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign that the Chi­nese Communist Party is en­gaged in to try and de­flect from what has re­ally taken place,” Pom­peo told re­porters.

China “has been and con­tin­ues to be en­gaged in" a cam­paign through so­cial me­dia that has in­cluded con­spir­acy the­o­ries of US in­volve­ment.

“This is crazy talk,” he said. 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 stig­ma­tiz­ing.

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.

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

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 per­cent, while Europe can also ex­pect to suf­fer.

“We think the un­em­ploy­ment rate in the eu­ro­zone will surge to about 12 per­cent 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.

Lead­ers of the G20 ma­jor economies will hold a vir­tual hud­dle later Thurs­day in the shadow of such dire pre­dic­tions.

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

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.

"It is re­ally hard, we had fev­er­ish peo­ple for many hours in the wait­ing room," the 30-year-old told AFP.

“Many of my col­leagues were cry­ing be­cause there were peo­ple who are dy­ing alone, without see­ing their fam­ily for the last time."

Two deaths in Russia In­dia's stay-at-home or­der for its 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple is now the big­gest, tak­ing the to­tal num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als fac­ing re­stric­tions on their daily lives to more than three bil­lion.

Anx­ious In­di­ans raced for sup­plies af­ter the world's sec­ond-big­gest pop­u­la­tion was or­dered not to leave their houses for three weeks.

Russia, which an­nounced the death of two pa­tients who tested pos­i­tive for coro­n­avirus on Wed­nes­day, is ex­pected to fol­low suit.

Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin de­clared next week a pub­lic holiday and post­poned a pub­lic vote on con­tro­ver­sial con­sti­tu­tional re­forms, urg­ing peo­ple to fol­low in­struc­tions given by au­thor­i­ties.

Colom­bia goes into lock­down Coun­tries across Latin Amer­ica have tight­ened mea­sures to halt the spread of the deadly novel coro­n­avirus, with more lock­downs, bor­der and school clo­sures as well as in­creased aid to the re­gion's poor­est.

As cases of COVID-19 con­tinue to rise – num­ber­ing more than 7,400 and 123 deaths as of Wed­nes­day – Bo­livia and Colom­bia be­came the lat­est coun­tries to im­pose a to­tal lock­down, while Chile ex­tended its school clo­sures un­til the end of April.

Here are the lat­est mea­sures taken in sev­eral Latin Amer­i­can na­tions:

Bo­livia

Bo­livia is clos­ing its bor­ders and or­der­ing a strict lock­down un­til April 15 start­ing at mid­night Wed­nes­day, Pres­i­dent Jea­nine Anez said as she de­clared a state of "san­i­tary emer­gency."

The steps are de­signed to add teeth to a lock­down that was or­dered on Sun­day but has largely been ig­nored.

More po­lice and sol­diers have been de­ployed to en­force the mea­sures, Anez said.

There would be nar­row ex­cep­tions to who can cross the bor­ders and the times at which peo­ple can be out­side their homes, she added.

Colom­bia

A three-week to­tal lock­down be­gan just af­ter mid­night Tuesday and is set to last un­til April 12.

"Stay at home, pre­vent the virus from spread­ing and save lives," said Pres­i­dent Ivan Duque.

Nearly 500 cases of the deadly virus have been re­ported in Colom­bia, which has a pop­u­la­tion of 48 mil­lion.

The cap­i­tal city Bo­gota had al­ready been on lock­down since Sun­day on the or­ders of the mayor.

Chile

About 1.3 mil­lion res­i­dents of San­ti­ago – in­clud­ing those of the Chilean cap­i­tal's most af­flu­ent neigh­bor­hoods – will be on lock­down for least a week start­ing at 0100 GMT Thurs­day, of­fi­cials said.

This fol­lows an or­der by au­thor­i­ties to ex­tend school clo­sures un­til May. Classes were sus­pended on March 16, just un­der two weeks af­ter the first coro­n­avirus case was recorded.

Chile has re­ported more than 1,100 in­fec­tions and three deaths.

ANTI-VIRUS WAR­RIORS – Health work­ers dis­in­fect the premises of the Ba­coor City Hall in a bid to keep it safe from the coro­n­avirus dis­ease. (Ali Vi­coy)

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