MADRID / BEIJING (Reuters) – Hundreds of millions of people faced a world on Wednesday that was turned upside down by one-off, immediate measures against the coronavirus pandemic that is killing the old and vulnerable and sustained economic misery.
An empty shopping street can be seen during the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Berlin on March 18, 2020. REUTERS / Fabrizio Bensch
“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 200,000 people and caused nearly 8,500 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.”
Of particular concern was Italy, which had an unusually high mortality rate – 2,978 out of 35,713 cases – and asked students and retired doctors to help overwhelmed health services. Italy reported 475 new deaths on Wednesday, the largest increase since the outbreak began and the highest total one-day total of all nations.
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-isolated neighbors, they thank the health services. In several countries, stores began to reserve special times for older buyers.
The United States, which had closed its Canadian border except for significant travel, sent its two military hospital ships – Comfort and Mercy – to the New York harbor and 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 basis and had exercised special powers through the Defense Production Act 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 failed to calm the markets: stock and oil prices fluctuated again, with European stocks falling nearly 5% and approaching the seven-year lows and major US indices falling 7%.
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 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.
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