EU faces biggest crisis of its history, warns Merkel

Updated April 07, 2020

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MOSCOW: A man walks through the deserted Red Square, with St. Basil’s Cathedral (left) and the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower (right) in the background on Monday, amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.—AFP
MOSCOW: A man walks through the deserted Red Square, with St. Basil’s Cathedral (left) and the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower (right) in the background on Monday, amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.—AFP

BERLIN: European leaders battling a deadly coronavirus outbreak are facing the “biggest test” to their union, Germany’s leader said on Monday, as the United States braced for what authorities warned would be its hardest week in living memory.

As France bluntly warned that it faces the deepest recession since World War II, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel called for European nations to work together to rebuild from the deadly pandemic gripping the continent.

Japan announced an imminent state of emergency and a trillion-dollar stimulus package, while the United States prepared to cross the 10,000 deaths’ mark and its top doctor compared the likely impact of the outbreak in the week ahead to 9/11 or Pearl Harbor.

More than 70,000 people have now died worldwide, some 50,000 of them in Europe. The daily toll has begun to drop in the hard-hit Spain and France, but it is still accelerating in America.

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Merkel called for strength in the face of the grinding crisis.

“In my view... the European Union stands before the biggest test since its founding,” Merkel warned, a day ahead of a key eurozone finance ministers’ conference to agree an economic rescue plan for the bloc.

“Everyone is just as affected as the other, and, therefore, it is in everyone’s interest, and it is in Germany’s interest for Europe to emerge strong from this test,” she said, following criticism from harder-hit partners.

Italy, France and Spain have implored Germany, Austria and the Netherlands for common debt facilities to cushion the economic impact of the virus.

But leaders from the richer northern nations have resisted the calls -- with Germany and the Netherlands in the lead -- fearing their taxpayers will be left to foot the bill.

In terms of Europe’s frontline health response, some countries already ravaged by Covid-19 outbreaks reported lower numbers of new infections and deaths, offering a glimmer of hope the worst may have passed.

Norway said on Monday the epidemic was under control and Austria began thinking about easing its lockdown.

But the death toll topped 5,000 in Britain after more than 400 new fatalities were reported on Monday.

In London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson remained in hospital but said he was in “good spirits” after he was admitted on Sunday for tests for “persistent” coronavirus symptoms.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2020