Global coronavirus pandemic infections tops half-million

Volunteer Djuradj Babic handing out laptops to students at East Los Angeles College during the global outbreak of coronavirus in Monterey Park, California, USA, March 26, 2020.
Volunteer Djuradj Babic handing out laptops to students at East Los Angeles College during the global outbreak of coronavirus in Monterey Park, California, USA, March 26, 2020. © Mario Anzuoni, REUTERS

With Italy and France suffering a setback Thursday as coronavirus death tolls and cases mounted, mirroring trends in Spain and the US, the number of infections worldwide topped the half-million mark even as more than a third of the world’s population was under some form of lockdown, putting strains on the global economy.


The human and economic toll of the lockdowns against the coronavirus mounted Thursday as India struggled to feed the multitudes, Italy shut down most of its industry, and a record-shattering 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in a single week.

As the number of deaths due to the infection climbed to about 23,000, the damage to people's livelihoods and their well-being from the effort to flatten the rising curve started to come into focus.

In France, health authorities reported 365 new deaths from coronavirus on Thursday, taking the total to 1,696.

The rise in the number of deaths represents a daily rise of 27 percent, a marked increase from the previous day with the country now in its second week of lockdown.

This daily government tally only accounts for those dying in hospital, but authorities said they would soon be able to compile data on deaths in retirement homes, which is likely to result in a big increase in registered fatalities.

Poor abandoned in Modi’s India

In India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered the country's 1.3 billion people to stay home, legions of poor were suddenly thrown out of work, and many families were left struggling for something to eat.

“Our first concern is food, not the virus,” said Suresh Kumar, 60, a bicycle rickshaw rider in New Delhi whose family of six relies on his daily earnings of 300 rupees, or $4 (€3.6). “I don’t know how I will manage.”

India has the world's second-highest number of people living in extreme poverty. Rickshaw drivers, produce peddlers, maids, day labourers and other low-wage workers form the backbone of the economy, and many live day to day on their pay and have no savings to fall back on.

The Indian government announced a 1.7 trillion rupee ($22 billion, €20bn) economic stimulus package that will deliver monthly rations of grain and lentils to a staggering 800 million people.

New York State the new hotspot

Around the globe, the death toll stood at nearly 8,200 in Italy, more than 4,100 in Spain and over 1,000 in the US. New York State, the worst hotspot in the America, accounted for about 400 of the US deaths. Most of those were in New York City, where hospitals are getting swamped with patients.

From New York's Fifth Avenue and London's Piccadilly Circus to the boulevards of Paris and the streets of Rome and Madrid, restaurants, hotels, airlines, giant chains and small shops are all shuttered, and factories across both continents have ground to a halt, as cities, states and entire countries have ordered the closing of nonessential businesses and instructed people to stay home.

Companies in Europe are laying off workers at the fastest pace since 2009, according to surveys of business managers. And the US is bleeding jobs as well: The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week was nearly five times the old record, set in 1982.

Dann Dykas, 37, of Portland, Oregon, was laid off from his job helping design and set up displays for trade shows.

“Everything is so surreal," he said. "I can't even get an interview for another job, and we now have to worry more about being careful and taking care of ourselves.”

In Georgia, 33-year-old Ian Smith was let go from his job at a wine bar and is working “side hustles” and relying on the generosity of friends.

“On my worst days, it’s hopelessness, and on some of my better days, it’s ‘What possibility can I create in all of this?'” he said. “I can’t pretend that I always feel that, though.”

Markets respond to US rescue package

In a rare positive sign, stocks rallied on Wall Street for the third straight day after an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package to help businesses, hospitals and ordinary Americans pull through the crisis cleared the Senate. The plan, which is expected to be voted on in the House on Friday, would dispense cheques of $1,200 (€1086) per adult and $500 (€452) per child.

US President Donald Trump announced that federal officials are developing guidelines to rate counties by risk of virus spread, as he aims to ease the restrictions meant to slow the outbreak.

The British government unveiled another relief effort, this time aimed at the gig economy, many of whose workers are facing financial ruin. The government will give the self-employed grants equal to 80 percent of their average monthly profits, up to £2,500 ($2,975, €2,760) per month.

Africa catches up

South Africa, with the most industrialised economy in Africa, headed into a three-week lockdown starting Friday. The country is already in recession, with an unemployment rate of 29 percent.

While the coronavirus epidemic was slow to reach Africa, the number of cases and deaths have been rising, raising fears of how the continent, plagued by poverty and poor health infrastructure could cope with the crisis.

At an unprecedented video conference Thursday, the leaders of the G20 grouping of major industrialised nations vowed to work together to confront the crisis. A statement at the end of the meeting mentioned an injection of US$5 trillion (€4.5tn) into the global economy, but no specific commitments were made.


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