The novel coronavirus pandemic is still accelerating and its effects will be felt for decades, the World Health Organization’s director-general told an online conference on Monday.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual health forum organised by Dubai authorities that the greatest threat facing the world is not the virus itself, but “the lack of global solidarity and global leadership”.
“We cannot defeat this pandemic with a divided world,” he said.
“The politicisation of the pandemic has exacerbated it. None of us is safe until all of us are safe.”
The WHO warned last week of a new and dangerous phase of the coronavirus pandemic, with people tiring of lockdowns despite the disease’s rapid spread.
The COVID-19 illness, which has now killed more than 465,000 people and infected almost nine million worldwide, is surging in the Americas and parts of Asia, even as Europe starts to ease restrictive measures.
Lockdowns imposed to halt the spread of the virus have caused crippling economic damage, but the WHO says the pandemic still poses a major threat.
“The pandemic is still accelerating,” Tedros told the virtual conference.
“We know that the pandemic is much more than a health crisis, it is an economic crisis, a social crisis, and in many countries a political crisis,” he said.
“Its effects will be felt for decades to come.”
A vaccine remains months off at best despite several trials, while scientists are still discovering more about the virus, its symptoms and the extent to which it may have spread before being identified.
Marina Khachatryan is not the only person in ex-Soviet Armenia who believes the coronavirus is a government conspiracy.
But her large following online means her scepticism has a wide, potentially even dangerous reach.
The unemployed surgeon runs the Facebook page of a local group critical of the government’s health policies, where thousands of followers are treated to a regular dose of false claims about the pandemic.
“(The authorities) want to use their own people as experimental animals to test a vaccine,” said Khachatryan, who also believes the virus was created in a laboratory.
The Armenian government has come under fire for responding too slowly to the pandemic, which has seen the country’s prime minister infected, quarantine rules ignored and hospitals overwhelmed.
But critics also say authorities are failing to stamp out viral disinformation like Khachatryan’s posts that fuel the pandemic and undermine lockdown rules.
“Quarantine didn’t work in Armenia,” virologist Nuneh Bakunts told AFP, because people believed disinformation online and didn’t “take the threat seriously.”
Claims that the virus is a global conspiracy led by the US business magnate Bill Gates and that 5G telecommunication technology is being used to spread the infection are commonplace in the country.
A recent investigation by the UK-based website openDemocracy found that controversial local news portal Medmedia.am was spreading “incredibly dangerous” virus disinformation.
– ‘False rumours’ –
One article described vaccines currently being developed as “biological weapons” and warned Armenians against participating in vaccination programmes.
The post was viewed at least 131,000 times and had 28,000 Facebook likes — a huge number for a country of just three million people.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who announced on his birthday on June 1 that he had tested positive for the virus, has admitted failings in his government’s response to the crisis.
He conceded earlier this month that overwhelmed hospitals can no longer cope with the number of coronavirus patients and that people are dying due to a lack of intensive care beds.
But he has placed blame for widespread quarantine violations on “false rumours that the pandemic is a fiction”.
Armenians largely ignored a lockdown to contain the outbreak imposed in late March, with many continuing to gather in public without mandatory face masks.
“Armenian media is full of false information about the coronavirus and that harms our fight against the pandemic,” government spokeswoman Mane Gegorgyan told AFP.
Analysts said, however, that the government had also sent mixed messages and unclear guidelines to the public.
– ‘Dangerous disinformation’ –
“Officials were calling for the wearing of face masks, but didn’t wear them themselves until recently,” analyst Samvel Martirosyan said.
Adding to that, rights campaigner Zhanna Aleksanyan told AFP that the government’s response to false virus news had fallen short, and that it had “only recently engaged in a dialogue with the public about dangerous disinformation.”
The Caucasus nation has seen new infections rapidly increase in recent weeks to a total 17,064 with 285 coronavirus deaths, while the situation looks set to further deteriorate.
Pashinyan last week compared the pandemic to “hell” and said the real number of people infected could be as high as 100,000.
Officials have scrapped the idea of reimposing the lockdown they lifted on May 4 citing frequent violations and they have yet to devise a strategy to tackle the disinformation that undermines anti-virus guidelines.
The government “doesn’t have a recipe ready against this,” said Gegorgyan, the government spokeswoman, referring to false news about the pandemic.
“What we can do is to have an open dialogue with people.”
Global foreign direct investment flows are likely to plunge by 40 percent this year due to the coronavirus crisis, the UN said Tuesday, with worse expected in 2021.
FDI will shrivel from its 2019 value of $1.54 trillion to below $1 trillion for the first time since 2005, said the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
FDI — a measure of cross-border private sector investments — is forecast to decrease by a further five to 10 percent in 2021 and only start a recovery in 2022, UNCTAD said in its World Investment Report 2020.
“The global economy is in a direr situation than it was during the 2008 financial crisis,” UNCTAD secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi told reporters.
“The pandemic represents a supply, demand, and policy shock for FDI.”
Kituyi said the economic impact of COVID-19 would hit developing countries hard, with disruptions to major productive sectors and industries, declining remittances and receipts from tourism and contracting world trade.
“The shock will be further compounded by the impact on food security as production of major food items is concentrated in a few big countries where the pandemic is expanding,” he said.
“Managing the disease is only part of the persistent challenges facing developing economies.”
– FDI can lead ‘recovery’ –
In Asia, the pandemic is expected to precipitate a fall in reinvested earnings of foreign affiliates in the region, while the crisis has underscored the significance of China and other Asian economies as global production hubs.
Meanwhile all 32 landlocked less-developed countries were struggling with the economic impact of the pandemic on FDI flows — particularly with border closures, the report said.
Those countries cannot turn to direct sea transport — the mode that carries an estimated 80 percent of global trade, said UNCTAD.
“As we saw in the past, international investment played a lead role in recovery from global financial crises,” said James Zhan, UNCTAD’s director of investment and enterprise.
He said the recovery could create opportunities for middle-income countries as value chains become more regionalised.
The report found that global FDI flows rose by a modest three percent in 2019, following sizable declines in 2017 and 2018.
The rise was mainly the result of higher flows to developed economies, as the impact of the 2017 tax reforms in the United States waned.
The new coronavirus pandemic risks aggravating the woes of people already suffering from the world’s most neglected crises, especially in Africa, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) aid group said Wednesday.
“COVID-19 is spreading across Africa, and many of the most neglected communities are already devastated by the economic shocks of the pandemic,” NRC’s secretary-general Jan Egeland said.
His remarks came as he presented his organisation’s annual report on “the most neglected crises in the world”.
“We need solidarity with these conflict-stricken communities now more than ever, so the virus does not add more unbearable disaster to the myriad of crises they already face,” he said in a statement.
According the report, nine of the world’s 10 most neglected crises are in Africa, with Cameroon topping the list for the second year in a row.
Venezuela was the only non-African country on the list.
Healthcare systems in these impoverished countries are not in a position to cope with the health crisis brought on by the pandemic, NRC said.
According to AFP’s tally, Africa has officially reported 5,354 COVID-19 deaths and 197,823 confirmed cases.
Cameroon has been gripped by violence since a separatist revolt by the country’s English-speaking minority began in October 2017, claiming more than 3,000 lives and forcing nearly 700,000 people to flee their homes.
The Democratic Republic of Congo came in second on the list, followed by Burkina Faso, which was added to the list for the first time.
“The deep crises represented by millions of displaced Africans are yet again the most underfunded, ignored and deprioritised in the world,” Egeland said.
“Despite facing a tornado of emergencies, their SOS calls for help fall on deaf ears,” he added.
The NRC’s list is based on three criteria: lack of funding to respond to humanitarian needs, lack of media coverage, and political negligence.
France, Germany and four other EU countries on Tuesday urged the European Union to take a greater role in preparing for any future pandemic, conceding that coronavirus responses had fallen short.
There should be a “common European approach” to such challenges in future, wrote France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel along with the leaders of Spain, Poland, Belgium and Denmark.
They addressed their letter and policy paper to European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, in the strongest attempt yet by the bloc’s most powerful leaders to spur the EU executive to fix the disunity displayed during the crisis, especially in its earliest days.
As the global outbreak first took hold, member states privileged national responses by shutting borders, hoarding medical supplies and waving through major spending plans regardless of EU rules.
European countries experimented with further lifting coronavirus restrictions Monday as New Zealand declared victory over the pandemic, even as global cases topped seven million and deaths mounted in Latin America.
The number of COVID-19 fatalities has now passed 403,000 worldwide since the disease emerged in China last year before sweeping the globe, subjecting billions to some form of lockdown and paralysing economies.
But even the hardest-hit countries are lurching back to a new kind of normal, with bars and restaurants coming back to life and travel restrictions lifted from London to Brussels to Moscow.
But in some places, it was far from business as usual.
Britain on Monday rolled out a 14-day quarantine for all travellers entering the country, prompting uproar from the badly hammered aviation industry which is eager to see travel revived.
Pubs and eateries flung their doors open in Belgium, but with social distancing measures in force, while Ireland opened shops and allowed gatherings and travel, also with limits.
New Zealand meanwhile buoyed hopes for the rest of the world as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared that her country had beaten the virus and lifted all restrictions, though strict border controls remain.
The country’s measures were lifted after its final coronavirus patient was declared recovered, prompting the leader to dance around her living room in celebration.
“We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now,” Ardern said, adding that Kiwis had “united in unprecedented ways to crush the virus”.
New Zealand Rugby also announced its top-flight domestic competition would restart this week, with fans allowed to pack into the stadiums for the first time in months.
– Belgian bar ‘invaded’ –
Governments around the world are cautiously peeling back punishing lockdown measures to resuscitate economies while trying to avoid a resurgence of infections.
Moscow said Monday it would ease border restrictions and lift lockdown measures in the Russian capital from Tuesday, while Ireland said it would permit gatherings of six people and allow citizens to travel up to 20 kilometres (12 miles) from home, an extension from the previous five-kilometre limit.
In Brussels, thirsty patrons lined up in the early morning for a cold beverage at L’Union, eager to drink in a pub again after three months of closures — much to the relief of manager Bart Lemmens.
“I was a bit worried beforehand,” he said, as some 50 people crowded into the pub.
“We work to create a convivial atmosphere. I was afraid we’d lose that. But what happened? We were invaded.”
Britain embarked on a more cautious reopening, imposing a two-week quarantine for anyone coming into the country by land, sea or air — British nationals included — sparking legal action by airlines.
British Airways and low-cost carriers EasyJet and Ryanair said in a joint statement the measure would devastate tourism and destroy even more jobs.
At London’s Heathrow Airport, where only two of the five terminals are operating, the quarantine measures were welcomed by some.
“It’s a good idea,” said Sandy Banks, 45, returning to Britain with her three children from Jamaica via the United States.
“Other countries are doing it.”
– Chile death count –
But across the Atlantic, countries were gearing up for the worst as the outbreak escalated in Latin America, the new virus hotspot, with Brazil, Mexico and Peru particularly hard hit.
Brazil has the world’s third-highest death toll at more than 36,000, but President Jair Bolsonaro continues to play down the impact of the virus and has urged regional officials to lift lockdown measures.
And in Chile the confirmed death toll reached 2,290 after miscalculations from March and April were corrected, adding 1,541 to the figure, officials said.
Meanwhile in Asia, fears that the virus may not be under control persist, with the death toll and infection rate climbing sharply in India.
Still, after a 10-week lockdown, the government is risking lifting some curbs to ease the devastating impacts on the economy, and malls and temples reopened in several Indian cities on Monday.
The coronavirus pandemic inflicted a “swift and massive shock” that has caused the broadest collapse of the global economy since 1870 despite unprecedented government support, the World Bank said Monday.
The world economy is expected to contract by 5.2 percent this year — the worst recession in 80 years — but the sheer number of countries suffering economic losses means the scale of the downturn is worse than any recession in 150 years, the World Bank said in its latest Global Economic Prospects report.
“This is a deeply sobering outlook, with the crisis likely to leave long-lasting scars and pose major global challenges,” said World Bank Group Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions Ceyla Pazarbasioglu.
The depth of the crisis will drive 70 to 100 people into extreme poverty — worse than the prior estimate of 60 million, she told reporters.
And while the Washington-based development lender projects a rebound for 2021, there is a risk a second wave of outbreaks could undermine the recovery and turn the economic crisis into a financial one that will see a “wave of defaults.”
Economists have been struggling to measure the impact of the crisis they have likened to a global natural disaster, but the sheer size of the impact across so many sectors and countries has made it hard to calculate, and made predictions about any recovery highly uncertain.
Under the worst-case scenario, the global recession could mean a contraction of eight percent, according to the report.
But Pazarbasioglu cautioned that, “Given this uncertainty, further downgrades to the outlook are very likely.”
– China still growing, barely –
Although China is nearly alone in seeing modest growth this year, the depth of the slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy will hinder recovery prospects in developing nations, especially commodity exporters, the World Bank warned.
While China will see GDP rise just one percent, the World Bank said, the rest of the forecasts are grim: US -6.1 percent, eurozone -9.1 percent, Japan -6.1 percent, Brazil -8 percent, Mexico -7.5 percent and India -3.2 percent.
And things could get worse, meaning the forecasts will be revised even lower, the bank warned.
There remain some “exceptionally high” risks to the outlook, particularly if the current outbreaks linger or rebound, causing authorities to reimpose restrictions that could make the downturn as bad as eight percent.
“Disruptions to activity would weaken businesses’ ability to remain in operation and service their debt,” the report cautioned.
That, in turn, could raise interest rates for higher-risk borrowers and, “With debt levels already at historic highs, this could lead to cascading defaults and financial crises across many economies.”
But even if the 4.2 percent global recovery projected for 2021 materializes, “In many countries, deep recessions triggered by COVID-19 will likely weigh on potential output for years to come.”
Foreign tourists have vanished, the lockdown has paralysed economic life and local customers “have other priorities”, Ahmed Driouch said in his store cluttered with copper lamps, ceramics, daggers, jewelry, inlaid chests and carpets.
Business has been “two hundred percent affected by the virus”, he said, grimly forecasting it would take “at least two or three years” to return to normal.
Upstairs, employees dusted some 10,000 carpets in stock, one by one.
“We must clean everything even if, for now, nobody’s coming,” one of them said ruefully, vacuum cleaner in hand.
Minister of Tourism and Handicrafts Nadia Fettah has proposed ideas such as exhibition spaces in supermarkets to revive a sector that provides employment to two million people.
That includes about 230,000 traditional artisans.
The crafts industry represents around seven percent of GDP, with an export turnover last year of nearly one billion dirhams ($100 million).
Despite their role in the economy, artisans work without social security cover and with a limited distribution network, much of it through word of mouth, like elsewhere in North Africa.
– ‘Don’t know internet’ –
The 30 women who weave rugs for a small cooperative called “Creative Woman” in Sale have all lost their meagre incomes.
Weavers work eight hours a day for barely $100 a month “when the carpets are sold” and they “have nothing left because there has not been a single sale in three months”, explained Rachida Nabati.
The energetic woman in her 40s, who has been a weaver since the age of seven, has been forced to borrow from friends to supplement her modest earnings from a vegetable garden next to her shack.
In the cooperative, some have been bailed out by a state coronavirus emergency fund, while many others “can no longer pay their rent”.
“We have to sell on the internet but we don’t know how to do that,” said the mother who taught herself to read and write.
“A digital platform was launched for artisans a few years ago, but it doesn’t work,” master plasterer Mohamed Touel said.
In Tunisia, the National Office of Handicrafts has been working on an electronic platform for sales in Europe and has organised small exhibitions in hotels.
It also encourages artisans to launch Facebook pages or electronic sites.
But Sabiha, a potter in the Tunisian rural town of Sejnan whose works are on UNESCO’s list of “intangible cultural heritage”, said she cannot “even afford to recharge” her mobile phone.
The global death toll from the coronavirus neared 400,000 on Saturday with fatalities accelerating in Latin America, as oil-producing countries agreed to extend output cuts to offset a collapse in prices caused by the pandemic and lockdowns.
Brazil has the world’s third-highest death toll but President Jair Bolsonaro has threatened to pull out of the World Health Organization (WHO) over “ideological bias”, following the example of the United States.
Bolsonaro is among those arguing that the economic damage lockdowns are causing is worse than the virus itself — and the oil industry has been hit particularly hard.
The cartel of oil-producing nations OPEC agreed on Saturday to extend an April deal to cut production through July, aiming to foster a recovery in oil prices after they were pummelled by slumps in demand caused by virus restrictions.
National governments are also increasingly focused on repairing the economic damage — even hard-hit European countries are now opening their borders and allowing people to return to work.
However, the search for a treatment for the virus still appears a long way from success.
Late on Friday, a study from Oxford University based on clinical trials concluded that hydroxychloroquine — a malaria drug championed as a treatment by Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump — showed “no beneficial effect” in treating COVID-19.
US ‘Largely Through’
The new coronavirus has killed more than 397,000 people and infected 6.8 million globally, the worst health crisis in more than a century that has tipped the global economy into a crushing downturn and forced tens of millions out of work in the United States alone.
The US is the world’s hardest-hit nation, with over 109,000 dead and nearly 1.9 million infections.
However, Trump said the economy was bouncing back.
“We had the greatest economy in the history of the world. And that strength let us get through this horrible pandemic, largely through, I think we’re doing really well,” he told reporters.
Trump, who is facing re-election in November, reiterated his calls to further ease stay-at-home measures, after surprisingly upbeat employment numbers showed the country gained 2.5 million jobs in May.
In a sign of a slow return to normality in the US, Universal Orlando became the first of the giant theme parks in Florida to reopen — albeit with temperature tests at the entrance and mandatory face masks.
The South Pacific island of French Polynesia also said it would reopen to international travel next month to try to salvage its vital tourism industry.
“We are no longer in a health emergency, but we are facing an economic and social emergency,” said Tourism and Employment Minister Nicole Bouteau.
EU to Reopen Borders
In Europe, badly-hit countries slowly continued on a path toward a post-pandemic normal, also seeking to revive key tourist sectors in time for the summer season.
The European Union said it could reopen borders to travellers from outside the region in early July, after some countries within the bloc reopened to European visitors.
A major Spanish tourism draw, Madrid’s Prado museum, reopened its doors to a handful of visitors on Saturday, putting together more than 200 masterpieces in a new exhibition.
In France, the Palace of Versailles also reopened, but without the US and Chinese tourists that usually make up a third of its visitors.
A top French expert said on Friday that dramatic drops in daily deaths and new cases in the country since their March peaks meant the worst was over.
“We can reasonably say the virus is currently under control,” said Jean-Francois Delfraissy, the head of the government’s scientific advisory council.
Still, bleak numbers streamed in from Latin America.
Brazil’s death toll passed 35,000 as Bolsonaro echoed criticism of the WHO by Trump, who has said the US will defund the organisation because it is too close to China.
“I’m telling you right now, the United States left the WHO, and we’re studying that, in the future. Either the WHO works without ideological bias, or we leave, too,” the far-right leader told journalists.
Tolls are also rising sharply in Mexico, Peru and Ecuador. And in Chile, deaths have risen by more than 50 percent in the past week.
Senegal said Thursday it would ease an anti-coronavirus curfew and lift restrictions on inter-city travel following two nights of protests that were marked by violence.
Interior Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye said the start of the 9:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew would be pushed back by two hours, to 11:00 pm.
“From today, transport restrictions across the country are being lifted, with the curfew being maintained from 11pm to 5am,” he said on state television.
“Gatherings in public or private places, restaurants, gyms, casinos will also benefit from these relaxation measures,” he said.
More than 70 people were arrested on Wednesday after demonstrations, focused on the curfew, broke out in several cities.
One of the centres of unrest was Touba, Senegal’s second largest city located around 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of the capital Dakar, and the seat of a politically powerful Sufi Muslim order, the Mouride Brotherhood.
Several police vehicles there were set ablaze and a coronavirus treatment centre and post office buildings were attacked, sources said.
The Brotherhood’s leader, Serigne Mountakha Mbacke, appeared on television late Tuesday to urge protesters to go home and vowed to address the problems.
The curfew was imposed by President Macky Sall on March 23, and has been implemented in tandem with a ban on travel between Senegal’s regions.
Demands for an easing of restrictions have mounted in the face of the plight of many Senegalese who depend on day-by-day jobs.
Around 40 per cent of the population live below the threshold of poverty, according to a World Bank benchmark.
The West African state has recorded 3,932 cases of coronavirus, 45 of them fatalities, according to a toll compiled by AFP.
The figures are low compared to countries in Europe and the United States, although experts caution that, as elsewhere in Africa, Senegal is vulnerable to the pandemic because of its weak health system.