SYDNEY / BEIJING (Reuters) – Hundreds of millions of people worldwide took action on Wednesday to tackle the coronavirus crisis, which not only kills the elderly and vulnerable, but also threatens ongoing 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
The rapidly spreading disease, which has spread from animals to people in China, has now infected around 200,000 people and caused nearly 8,500 deaths in 164 countries. This triggered emergency barriers and money injections that had not been seen since the Second World War.
“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.
“Life in Australia is changing as it is changing around the world,” he added as his government prepared for a potentially exponential rise after just six deaths.
Of particular concern was Italy, which had an unusually high mortality rate – 2,503 out of 31,506 cases – and hired thousands of student doctors before the final exams to help overwhelmed health care workers.
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 reduced to a minimum.
“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, bringing together neighbors, families and colleagues to care for the most needy, including taking care of the doors of those who are forced to stay inside.
In the hills of southern Spain, applause sounds every evening at 8 p.m. As self-isolated neighbors, they thank the health services for their work and greet each other.
Startled by an apparently inevitable global recession, the rich nations are releasing billions of dollars in stimulus to the economy, aid to healthcare, loans to fluctuating companies, and help to individuals who are afraid of mortgages and other routine payments.
BOUNCE BACK OR LONG RECESSION?
“We have never seen anything like it. And our society, which has become used to changes that expand our opportunities for knowledge, health and life, is now in a war to defend everything we took for granted, ”said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez Sanchez the parliament.
The chamber was almost empty and most legislators stayed away.
Additional cash from governments and central banks was unable to calm the markets: stocks and oil prices fluctuated again.
Optimists believe that the coronavirus in China, where it appeared at the end of last year, has waned, and predict an upturn as soon as the epidemic peaks elsewhere – hopefully within a few 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.
Restaurants, bars, and hotels have been closed, and tens of thousands of people in the aviation industry have been fired from memory or given unpaid leave in the face of the worst crisis.
In China, the unemployment rate rose to 6.2% in February, the highest since records started, and rose from 5.2% in December.
The majority of companies and factories – apart from the epicenter in Hubei province – have reopened, but it is unclear how many workers and employees have actually returned. Some industries, such as pharmaceuticals, supermarkets, grocers and utilities, do better than others.
However, some geopolitical tensions remained normal – or were exacerbated by the crisis. In a European Union document, the Russian media were accused of causing panic by misinformation about the disease in the West.
Moscow has denied such accusations in the past.
In other protracted frictions, China withdrew three American journalists’ press cards in a dispute over media freedom and corona virus coverage.
The US election race continued, and Joe Biden won three Democratic presidential primaries. Due to the epidemic, campaigns are now expected to be interrupted.
The corona virus dampened passions in some hotspots, such as Hong Kong, where protests raged against Beijing. But in other cases, anti-establishment protesters firmly believed that they would not be distracted.
“The system is trying to use the corona virus as an argument to end our revolution,” said teacher Mohamed Hachimi of a ban on protests in Algeria. “The marches will continue!”
When China’s worst-case outbreak occurred while the West was spinning, overseas Chinese students began to fly home after the campus closed its gates.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and I think a stronger support structure – family and friends in China – would make this time easier,” said 20-year-old Harvard University student Roger Zhang, who returned to Shenzhen.
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; Letter from Andrew Cawthorne; Edited by Peter Graff