World economy reels as pandemic toll tops 275,000

Updated 11 May, 2020

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Over 85pc deaths reported in the US and Europe; IMF says situation worse than previously thought. — AFP/File
Over 85pc deaths reported in the US and Europe; IMF says situation worse than previously thought. — AFP/File

MOSCOW: Soaring coronavirus infections forced Russia to scale back World War II victory celebrations on Saturday, as the worldwide death toll surged past 275,000 and lockdowns pushed millions into unemployment.

The pandemic has killed more than 275,000 people across the world since it began in China late last year, with more than 85 per cent of the fatalities in Europe and the United States, according to a tally based on official figures.

In total, at least 275,018 deaths have been reported from 3.95 million confirmed cases, according to the tally. Europe is the most affected continent with 154,313 deaths and 1.69m cases. The United States is the country with the most deaths at 77,280, following by Britain on 31,241, Italy 30,201, Spain 26,478 and France 26,230.

Economic figures point to the most acute downturn in nearly a century — the United States confirming 20.5m jobs were lost in April, the highest figure ever reported and the biggest percentage increase since the Great Depression.

Over 85pc deaths reported in the US and Europe; IMF says situation worse than previously thought

US President Donald Trump, however, insisted next year would be “phenomenal” for the economy as he tries to build support for reopening businesses in a country where coronavirus has already killed more than 77,000 and continues to claim more than 1,000 lives a day.

Trump is not alone in pushing for businesses to reopen — governments across Europe, the hardest-hit continent, are taking measures to ease restrictions that have all but choked their economies.

However, the situation in Europe was unlikely to get back to normal anytime soon.

Britain is reportedly planning to announce on Sunday that all overseas visitors will face a mandatory two-week quarantine and the European Union warned against opening borders to travellers from outside the bloc.

The pandemic, which has already infected almost 4m worldwide, continues to wreak havoc on cultural calendars — celebrations to mark the end of World War II in Europe being the latest event to fall victim.

Across Europe, commemorations marking 75 years since Nazi Germany’s surrender were cancelled or scaled down on Friday.

Russia celebrates the event a day later than the rest of Europe and usually hosts grand parades, but the pandemic crushed plans for rousing displays of military might in Red Square and beyond.

President Vladimir Putin instead gave a solemn speech at a war memorial outside the Kremlin walls on Saturday and made no mention of the coronavirus, focusing squarely on the sacrifices of the Soviet era.

“Our veterans fought for life, against death. And we will always be equal to their unity and endurance,” Putin said, adding: “We know and firmly believe that we are invincible when we stand together.”

Russia is now the fifth hardest-hit country with nearly 200,000 confirmed infections and a rapidly rising caseload — more than 10,000 new ones confirmed every day this week.

Elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, parades were held only in Turkmenistan and Belarus, where around 4,000 troops marched in front of large crowds in the capital Minsk.

As many Americans and Russians faced up to the barrage of deaths, infections and dreadful economic news, other nations began to feel secure enough to slowly lift their restrictions.

Bars and restaurants in some parts of Germany reopened on Saturday and further relaxation of the restrictions was earmarked for Monday.

Hard-hit French, Belgians and Spaniards were also preparing for more relaxed regimes from Monday, although not everyone has embraced the idea.

“Since the announcement of our possible reopening, I’ve been scared to death. It’s a big responsibility to have to protect my staff and my customers,” said Maya Flandin, a bookshop manager from Lyon in France.

And even as some areas of Germany opened up, officials in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia announced on Friday one district would remain locked down after an outbreak in a slaughterhouse.

In Brazil there was no sign of a let-up — either with lockdown measures or with the onslaught of the virus. The country was already the focal point of the Latin America outbreak and it announced a record number of deaths on Friday, with 751 fatalities bringing its toll to almost 10,000.

With the car industry almost entirely shut down and other economic indicators in the red, a government minister warned this week that the country faced “economic collapse” if lockdowns continued.

The dire data from individual countries has further dampened the already grim global outlook, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) saying it had been too optimistic when it predicted the world economy would contract by three per cent this year.

“Incoming economic data for many countries is below our already pessimistic assessment for 2020,” said IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva, whose organisation is fielding requests for emergency loans from dozens of its members.

The virus has prompted soul-searching from some quarters, with officials in China the latest to admit that their response was inadequate.

“The novel coronavirus outbreak was a big test that revealed China still has shortcomings in its major epidemic prevention and control system, public health systems and other aspects of responding,” Li Bin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, said on Saturday.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticised China for being secretive when the virus first emerged in the city of Wuhan late last year.

He has also given fuel to a conspiracy theory alleging the disease was cooked up in a Wuhan laboratory despite the idea being roundly dismissed by experts, US allies and Beijing.

The feud spread to the UN Security Council on Friday, where the US prevented a vote on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in various conflicts to allow officials to focus on the pandemic.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2020