MADRID / BEIJING (Reuters) – Hundreds of millions of people were on Wednesday faced with a world that was turned upside down by unprecedented immediate action against the coronavirus pandemic that is killing the old and vulnerable and sustained economic misery.
“This is a one-time event,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison, warning that the crisis could last six months since his nation was the last to restrict meetings and travel abroad.
The rapidly spreading disease, which has spread from animals to people in China, has now infected over 212,000 people and caused 8,700 deaths in 164 countries. This triggered emergency closures and money injections that have not been seen since the Second World War.
“We have never seen anything like this,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told an almost empty parliamentary chamber, where more than 90% of legislators stay away and a masked and gloved cleaner wipes the handrails between the speeches.
“And our society, which has become used to changes that expand our opportunities for knowledge, health and life, is now at war to defend everything we took for granted.”
Italy was particularly worrying, with an unusually high mortality rate – nearly 3,000 out of 35,713. It has asked student and retired doctors to help an overwhelmed health service.
Italy reported 475 new deaths on Wednesday, the largest increase since the outbreak began and the highest total one-day total of all nations.
France also reported an increase in deaths – an increase of 89 or 51% to a total of 264 within 24 hours.
All over the world, the rich and poor saw life turned upside down when events were canceled, businesses moved, jobs emptied, streets left, schools closed, and travel minimized.
“Cleanliness is important, but it is not easy here,” said Marcelle Diatta, a 41-year-old mother of four in Senegal, where there were loudspeakers asking people to wash their hands, but in their suburb water was often cut off.
The crisis has triggered a wave of solidarity in some countries in which neighbors, families and colleagues come together to care for the most needy, including taking care of the doors of those who are forced to stay indoors.
All over Spain there is applause and the knocking of pots in the evening at 8 p.m. As self-isolating neighbors, they thank the health services. In several countries, stores began to reserve special times for older buyers to keep the weakest away from those who may infect them.
The United States, which had closed its Canadian border except for substantial travel, sent its two military hospital ships – Comfort and Mercy – to New York Harbor and the west coast, while the Swedish military is building a field hospital near Stockholm.
US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that the country was on a war base and was using the Defense Production Act to exercise special powers to rapidly expand the manufacture of masks and protective equipment.
Long recession or setback?
Startled by an apparently inevitable global recession, the wealthy nations release billions of dollars to boost the economy, support healthcare, lend to fluctuating companies, and help individuals with mortgages and other routine payments.
Additional cash from governments and central banks was unable to calm the markets: share and oil prices fluctuated again. European stocks fell nearly 5%, approaching the seven-year lows. The major US indices fell 9% and 30% from last month’s highs.
Optimists assume that the coronavirus in China, where it appeared at the end of last year, has waned, and predict a recovery as soon as the epidemic peaks elsewhere – hopefully within months.
Pessimists take into account the possibility of recurring outbreaks and years of pain, some even whisper comparisons with the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Millions of workers on the ground fear for their work.
In the aerospace industry, tens of thousands have already been fired or taken on unpaid leave. The state of Nevada, where the Las Vegas casinos are located, has shut down its entire leisure industry overnight. The sector employs 355,000 people – a quarter of all jobs in the state.
In China, the world’s second largest economy after the United States, the unemployment rate rose to 6.2% in February, the highest since records started, and from 5.2% in December.
The majority of Chinese companies and factories – apart from the original epicenter in Hubei Province – have reopened, but it is unclear how many workers and employees have actually returned.
The crisis has exacerbated some longstanding geopolitical tensions. A European Union document has accused the Russian media of causing panic in the West about misinformation about the disease, while China has withdrawn American journalist ratings from three US newspapers in a row, in part because of corona virus coverage.
Recent cultural events that were canceled included the 50th anniversary of the British Glastonbury Music Festival.
With most major sporting events canceled, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has come under increasing pressure to rethink the summer games in Japan.
Several athletes, including reigning Olympic vaulting champion Katerina Stefanidi, said athletes’ health was at risk when they juggled coronavirus training with training.
“We all want Tokyo to happen, but what is Plan B if it doesn’t happen?” Stefanidi told Reuters.
($ 1 = 0.9125 euros)
Reporting by Swati Pandey and Colin Packham in Sydney, Ryan Woo and Tony Munroe in Beijing, Robin Emmott in Brussels, Nathan Allen in Madrid, John Whitesides in Washington, Angelo Amante and Crispian Balmer in Rome, David Kirton in Shenzhen, Karolos Grohmann in Athens Aaron Ross in Dakar, Paul Sandle in London; Letters from Andrew Cawthorne and Lisa Shumaker; Edited by Peter Graff, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman