BRUSSELS: World powers scrambled on Thursday to build a global response to the human tragedy and once-in-a-century economic collapse caused by the coronavirus epidemic, as death tolls in the US and Europe soared higher.

In the evening, the UN Security Council was preparing to meet on the pandemic for the first time. And the New York State recorded its single day record for Covid-19 deaths, with 799, although the rate of new hospitalisations fell, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

In neighbouring Canada, the government forecast that between 11,000 and 22,000 could die.

“We anticipate the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression,” said IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva, warning that all but a handful of countries will see incomes fall and urging governments to provide “lifelines” to businesses and households alike.

Meanwhile, the number of worldwide cases of the novel coronavirus since it spread from China earlier this year topped 1.5 million, according to a tally. More than 88,981 people have died.

More than one in 10 Americans have lost their jobs in just the past three weeks

The US Federal Reserve threw out just such a lifeline to Americans, with chairman Jerome Powell announcing financing facilities of $2.3 trillion “to provide as much relief and stability as we can during this period of constrained economic activity”.

He warned, however, that the US economy was moving “with alarming speed” towards “very high unemployment”. Nearly 17 million Americans have lost their jobs since mid-March.

With a startling 6.6m people seeking unemployment benefits last week, the United States reached a grim landmark: More than one in 10 workers have lost their jobs in just the past three weeks to the outbreak.

The figures collectively constituted the largest and fastest string of job losses in records dating to 1948. By contrast, during the Great Recession it took 44 weeks, roughly 10 months, for unemployment claims to go as high as they now have in less than a month.

The damage to job markets is extending across the world. The equivalent of 195 million full-time jobs could be lost in the second quarter to business shutdowns caused by the viral outbreak, according to the United Nations labour organisation. It estimates that global unemployment will rise by 25 million this year.

In Europe, where French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he expected GDP to fall by six per cent over the year, despite a planned 100-billion-euro ($109 billion) relief plan.

The worst-hit countries in Europe — the worst-hit continent — are Italy and Spain, where daily death tolls are now down from their peaks but still running high, despite strict lockdowns.

Spain’s daily fatalities fell to 683 on Thursday, down from 757 the day before, while its total passed 15,000.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2020