Nearly half the world in lockdown | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 01, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:52 AM, April 01, 2020

Nearly half the world in lockdown

Spain sees deadliest day; World Bank says crisis may push 11m in Asia into poverty

Tightened lockdowns across the planet saw nearly half of humanity told to stay at home in a bid to stem the spiralling coronavirus pandemic, as Spain recorded its deadliest day yesterday and the United States braced for the full impact of the disease.

Meanwhile, the World Bank warned in a report released Monday that the economic fallout from the pandemic could drive an additional 11 million people into poverty in East Asia and the Pacific unless "urgent action" is taken.

And G20 finance ministers and central bankers yesterday pledged to address the debt burden of low-income countries and deliver aid to emerging markets as part of a plan to combat the pandemic.

The announcement followed a second round of virtual talks after G20 leaders pledged a "united front" last week and said they were injecting $5 trillion into the global economy to head off a feared deep recession.

The virus has claimed more than 38,000 lives worldwide in a health crisis that is rapidly reorganising political power, hammering the global economy and altering the daily existence of some 3.6 billion people.

Spain, whose outbreak is the world's second deadliest after Italy, reported another national record with 849 deaths in one day, dampening hopes it could have passed the peak of the crisis that has debilitated the country for weeks.

In battered Italy, flags flew at half-mast during a minute of silence to honour the more than 11,500 people who have perished from the virus, and the medical staff still working through nightmarish conditions.

Although there are hopeful signs the spread of infections is slowing in both countries, hundreds are still dying every day, leading authorities to extend nationwide shutdowns despite their crushing economic impact.

Elsewhere Poland toughened restrictions on movement while Russia expanded lockdowns across its territory as infections ticked up.

According to a new study from the Imperial College London, strict containment measures might have already saved up to 59,000 lives across 11 European countries.

Even so, health facilities are in overdrive, with distressed medical staff forced to make grim decisions about how to distribute limited protective gear and life-saving respirators.

The United States was preparing for its darkest days after known infections topped 164,000 -- the highest number in the world.

In scenes previously unimaginable in peacetime, a field hospital was set to open in New York's Central Park after a medical ship with 1,000 beds docked outside the city.

Like France, the US is nearing the 3,305 death toll recorded in China, where the virus emerged late last year but has since come under control.

While companies and schools around the globe have shifted to teleworking and teaching over video platforms, huge swaths of the world's workforce cannot perform their jobs online are now lacking pay in the face of a deeply uncertain future.

New York city food banks have seen a surge of newcomers who have lost their wages. Three-quarters of Americans are now under some form of lockdown after Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC became the latest to join the roll call.

President Donald Trump sought to reassure Americans that authorities were ramping up distribution of equipment such as ventilators and personal protective gear.

But he also warned that "challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days" and acknowledged a potential nationwide stay-at-home order.

"We're sort of putting it all on the line," Trump said, again likening the efforts against coronavirus to a "war."

Meanwhile finance ministers and central bankers from the world's 20 major economies welcomed a $160 billion World Bank relief package to be deployed over the next 15 months to support its member countries, the Saudi hosts said in a statement.

They agreed to press ahead with a plan to address "the risk of debt vulnerabilities in low-income countries" and work to "swiftly deliver... financial assistance to emerging markets and developing countries", the statement said.

The economic pain of lockdowns is especially acute in impoverished cities in Africa and Asia.

The pandemic threatens to plunge up to 11 million East Asians into poverty, according to a new World Bank report.

In the worse-case scenario outlined by the Washington-based financial institution, the region could suffer its sharpest downturn in more than two decades, plunging much of Asia into a prolonged recession.

The crisis in Asia-Pacific is particularly acute because the region had already spent months dealing with the negative economic effects of the US-China trade war.

Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines will likely be harder hit, while Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia and Myanmar are the few countries expected to see growth — just at significantly lower levels than last year.

These countries will be especially impacted by a drop in tourism over the coming months; in countries like Malaysia or Thailand, tourism revenues make up more than 10% of GDP. International border closures and disruptions in aviation or shipping industries will also pose challenges for manufacturing exports.

Many of these countries already had weak or developing economies — meaning the shock of the coronavirus outbreak could leave millions trapped in dire poverty, defined as income of $5.50 a day or less.

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