The number of people infected with the new virus charged toward 100,000 Friday, with the global scare upending routines, threatening livelihoods and prompting quarantines in its spread.
Asian and European shares were down following a rough day on Wall Street and the consequences of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, were becoming clear to people around the world. Halted travel and a broader economic downturn linked to the outbreak threatened to hit already-struggling communities for months to come.
“Who is going to feed their families?” asked Elias al-Arja, the head of a hotel owners’ union in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where tourists have been banned and the storied Church of the Nativity shuttered.
The head of the UN’s food agency, the World Food Program, warned of the potential of “absolute devastation” as the outbreak’s effects ripple through Africa and the Middle East.
Across the West, there was a sense of déjà vu as the virus’ spread prompted scenes that already played out in Asia, with workers foregoing offices, vigorous sanitizing in public places and runs on household basics.
Even the spectacle of a cruise ship ordered to stay at sea off the California coast over virus fears replicated ones weeks ago on the other side of the globe.
“The Western world is now following some of China’s playbook,” said Chris Beauchamp, a market analyst at the financial firm IG.
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Signs of the virus’ shift away from its origins in China were becoming clearer each day.
China reported 143 new cases Friday, the same as a day earlier and about one-third what the country was seeing a week ago. Just a month ago, China was reporting several thousand new cases a day, outnumbering infections elsewhere in the world about 120 to 1.
The problem has now flipped, with the outbreak moving to Europe — where Italy, Germany and France had the most cases — and beyond.
The second hardest-hit country, South Korea, was also registering a notable decline in new infections and the World Health Organization’s leader said he was seeing “encouraging signs” there.
South Korea reported 505 additional cases Friday, down from a high of 851 on Tuesday. The country has touted its “remarkable diagnostic and treatment abilities” but its vice health minister, Kim Gang-lip, said, “It’s not easy to make predictions about how the situation … would play out.”
Cases were increasing in Germany and France, but Italy remained the center of Europe’s outbreak, particularly in its north. The country has had 148 fatalities, making it the deadliest site for the virus outside China.
The Italian government restricted visits to nursing homes and assisted living facilities to protect older people who have been more vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19. But with schools closed nationwide, many grandparents were called to duty as last-minute babysitters anyway.
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Even Vatican City was hit by the virus, with the tiny city-state confirming its first case Friday but not saying who was infected. The Vatican has insisted Pope Francis, who has been sick, only has a cold.
The Vatican said it is working with Italian authorities to keep the coronavirus from spreading, with a suspension of Pope Francis’ weekly audiences seen likely.
Iran’s government planned to set up checkpoints to limit travel and urged people to stop using paper money as the country has counted more than 3,500 cases and at least 107 deaths.
And in the United States, more than 230 cases were stirring anxiety around the country, nowhere more than its northwestern corner in Washington state, where officials are so concerned about having space to care for the sick they were expected to close a US$4 million deal Friday to take over a roadside motel.
The plan to turn the 84-room EconoLodge into a quarantine facility was not sitting well with everyone, including the police chief in the town where it’s located, who called it “ill-advised and dangerous” and warned security would be needed to keep people from leaving the hotel and infecting others.
To the south, on the Pacific coast, California National Guard paratroopers were hoisted down from a military helicopter to deliver virus test kits to the bow of the Grand Princess cruise ship.
235 Canadians on cruise ship held off coast of California
The vessel, with 3,500 aboard, was ordered to stay at sea after a traveler from its previous voyage died of the coronavirus and at least four others were infected. The cruise line said samples were collected from 45 passengers and crew members and results were expected later Friday.
The Grand Princess is operated by the same line as the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined at a Japanese port last month. More than 700 people on board were infected.
The 100,000 figure of infections — likely to be passed on Friday — is largely symbolic, but a milestone nonetheless. Other major outbreaks in recent decades, including SARS and MERS, affected far fewer people but had a higher mortality rate.
The new virus has spread to around 90 countries, with the Netherlands and Cameroon each reporting their first cases Friday.
Contributing to this report were Kim Tong-Hyung and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Aya Batrawy and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Nicole Winfield in Rome; Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy; Gene Johnson in Seattle; Olga Rodriguez in San Francisco; and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Bethlehem, West Bank.
© 2020 The Canadian Press
Palestinian Economy Hit Hard by Virus Needs Aid, World Bank Says – BNNBloomberg.ca
(Bloomberg) — The Palestinians will need outside help to overcome a poor economic outlook and widening budget deficit made far worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new World Bank report.
Already facing a growth slowdown and sizable deficit, the West Bank and Gaza Strip could see output shrink between 7.6% and 11%, depending on how fast the economy recovers from the virus, the World Bank said in its report published on Monday. President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority may watch its fiscal gap roughly double to more than $1.5 billion this year, and will need significant aid to restore growth and solve budgetary issues, the bank added.
“Several years of declining donor support and the limited economic instruments available have turned the ability of the government to protect livelihoods into a monumental task,” Kanthan Shankar, World Bank country director for the West Bank and Gaza, said in a release. “External support will be critical to help grow the economy during this unprecedented period.”
After economic expansion cooled from 8.9% in 2016 to just 0.9% last year, the pandemic forced World Bank officials to cut their 2020 expectations from a previous 2.5% increase. Restraints on movement helped to contain the spread of the disease but also hurt activity and government revenue.
In total, there have been more than 430 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus across the West Bank and Gaza, with three deaths.
Israel, which occupies the West Bank and blockades Gaza along with Egypt, is loaning the Palestinian Authority as much as 800 million shekels ($227.8 million) over the coming four months to help make up for the loss of tax revenue. The rare deal is meant to ensure funding for hospitals and other key services.
World Bank officials focused on recommendations to upgrade the Palestinian telecommunications sector in cooperation with Israel, in order to further develop the digital economy. Israel maintains a tight grip on broad aspects of the Palestinian information and communications technology sector.
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians are rising as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises to move forward this summer with annexing West Bank territory viewed by Palestinians as the heart of their future state. Palestinian leaders have promised to end all forms of cooperation with Israel in protest.
Now That He Can Annex West Bank Land, Will Netanyahu Do It?
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
People more important than the economy, pope says about Covid crisis – The Guardian
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Sunday that people are more important than the economy, as countries decide how quickly to reopen their countries from coronavirus lockdowns.
Francis made his comments, departing from a prepared script, at the first noon address from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square in three months as Italy’s lockdown drew to an end.
“Healing people, not saving (money) to help the economy (is important), healing people, who are more important than the economy,” Francis said.
“We people are temples of the Holy Spirit, the economy is not,” he said.
Francis did not mention any countries. Many governments are deciding whether to reopen their economies to save jobs and living standards, or whether to maintain lockdowns until they are sure the virus is fully under control.
The pope’s words were met with applause by hundreds of people in the square, many of whom wore masks and kept several meters from each other. The square was reopened to the public last Monday. Normally tens of thousands attend on a Sunday.
The last time the pope delivered his message and blessing from the window was March 1, before Italy, where more than 33,000 people have died from the virus, imposed a lockdown. The last restrictions will be lifted on Wednesday.
Francis led the crowd in silent prayer for medical workers who lost their lives by helping others.
He said he hoped the world would come out of the crisis more united, rather than divided.
“People do not come out of a crisis like this the same as before. We will come out either better or worse than before. Let’s have the courage to emerge better than before in order to build the post-crisis period of the pandemic positively,” he said.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Susan Fenton)
ANC Looks for New Levers to Boost South Africa's Economy – BNNBloomberg.ca
The head of economic transformation in South Africa’s ruling party proposed a range of measures to bolster the economy, ranging from encouraging the use of pension funds and the central bank to finance infrastructure spending to the creation of a state bank and pharmaceutical company.
Enoch Godongwana’s recommendations to the African National Congress come as the government tries to revive an economy devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Covid-19 shock is posing unprecedented challenges, the economic crisis entailed by the pandemic is unique,” Godongwana said in the May 22 document seen by Bloomberg. “Globally, central banks have reverted to their original role as bankers to their governments.”
While business and investors have been calling for strong government action to support Africa’s most-industrialized economy, the document may heighten concerns about state intervention and so-called prescribed investment — mandatory funding by private companies of certain sectors.
In the document, Godongwana proposed changing regulation 28 of the Pension Funds Act to boost the funding of infrastructure projects spearheaded by state development finance institutions using private capital. South Africa’s main state-owned DFIs are the Industrial Development Corp. and the Development Bank of Southern Africa, of which Godongwana is chairman.
He also suggested that the Reserve Bank help finance DFIs through the creation of a 500 billion-rand ($29 billion) fund. Money should also come from the Public Investment Corp., a 2.13 trillion-rand fund manager that oversees civil servants’ pensions, Godongwana said.
“While it faces increasing continental competition, the South African financial-services sector can rightly be said to endow our emerging-market nation with ‘the financial plumbing of a rich place’ with deep, liquid markets,” he said.
While the document is a break with the thinking of some ANC leaders that the state should be responsible for much of the investment in the economy, it does advocate increased government “guidance.”
“A narrow and flawed understanding of what the developmental state is has led to the erroneous conclusion that it is only about public investments and public ownership, with a related over-emphasis on the limited funds of the state,” he said. “A developmental state does not necessarily mean higher levels of state ownership, but high levels of guidance.”
In an interview with Johannesburg’s Business Times, which reported on the document earlier, Godongwana said the proposals didn’t amount to advocating for prescribed assets. They merely meant that regulations should be changed so that pension funds can invest in DFI’s if they wish to.
Godongwana didn’t answer a call to his mobile phone. Neither did Pule Mabe, the spokesman for the ANC.
The document also proposed the formation of a state bank, a pet project of Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, and a national pharmaceuticals company.
It also advocated, in contrast to the drive of some government departments, a swift move away from coal-fired energy to renewable power. The state-owned Central Energy Fund should be used to partner private investors in new projects, Godongwana said.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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