G20 in virtual huddle as virus toll tops 21,000

The G20 virtual summit takes place this afternoon from 12 noon (GMT). (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 March 2020

G20 in virtual huddle as virus toll tops 21,000

  • The virtual summit kicked off at 12 noon GMT
  • World leaders will discuss the current coronavirus crisis

MADRID: World leaders are to hold online crisis talks Thursday on the coronavirus pandemic that has forced three billion people into lockdown and claimed more than 21,000 lives.
With the disease tearing around the globe at a terrifying pace, warnings are multiplying over its economic consequences, and experts say it could cause more damage than the Great Depression.
Amid squabbling between the leaders of China and the US over who is to blame, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for the world to act together to halt the menace.
“COVID-19 is threatening the whole of humanity,” he said. “Global action and solidarity are crucial. Individual country responses are not going to be enough.”
The global lockdown — which also took in India’s huge population this week — tightened further Thursday as Russia announced it was grounding all international flights, while Moscow’s mayor ordered the closure of cafes, shops and parks.

Tokyo’s millions of citizens have been told to stay home and tourism-dependent Thailand has shuttered its borders.
Economists say the restrictions imposed around the world could cause the most violent recession in recent history.
“The G20 economies will experience an unprecedented shock in the first half of this year and will contract in 2020 as a whole,” ratings agency Moody’s said.
Unemployment rates are expected to soar — as much as 30 percent in the US — according to James Bullard, president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve.
Leaders of the G20 major economies will hold a virtual huddle later Thursday in the shadow of such dire predictions.
“As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges to health care systems and the global economy, we convene this extraordinary G20 summit to unite efforts toward a global response,” tweeted the king of Saudi Arabia. Saudi currently holds the rotating G20 presidency.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said richer nations needed to offer support to low and middle income countries.
The devastating effect on poorer nations was laid bare Thursday when the Philippines announced that nine frontline doctors had died after contracting COVID-19.
Three large Manila hospitals said this week they had reached capacity and would no longer accept new coronavirus cases.
Hundreds of medical staff are undergoing 14-day self-quarantines after suspected exposure, the hospitals said.
 


The death toll from the virus, which emerged in China late last year, continued to grow, with the US becoming the sixth country to hit four figures.
Almost 1,050 people are now known to have died in the United States, with nearly 70,000 confirmed infections, a tally by Johns Hopkins University showed. Globally the number of infections is closing in on half a million.
The rocketing infection rate in the US has sparked a rush to buy weapons, gun store owners told AFP, with customers panicking about societal breakdown.
“A lot of people are buying shotguns, handguns, AR-15 (semi-automatic rifles), everything,” said Tiffany Teasdale, who sells guns in Washington state.
“A lot of people are scared that someone is going to break into their home... to steal cash, their toilet paper, their bottled water, their food.”
Around half of the US population is under lockdown, but President Donald Trump said he would decide soon whether unaffected parts of the country can get back to work.
“We want to get our country going again,” Trump said. “I’m not going to do anything rash or hastily.
“By Easter we’ll have a recommendation and maybe before Easter,” he added.
The White House, which has been criticized for its lacklustre response to the mushrooming crisis, has repeatedly lashed out at Beijing over the disease.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Group of Seven powers were united against China’s “disinformation” campaign.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman infuriated Washington by suggesting on Twitter that US troops brought the virus to Wuhan, the metropolis where it first emerged late last year.

Scientists say the new coronavirus was first detected at a market that sold wild animals.
“Every one of the nations that were at that meeting this morning was deeply aware of the disinformation campaign that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in to try and deflect from what has really taken place,” Pompeo told reporters.
But any notion of unity after the videoconference among the G7, which also includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, was dashed by the lack of a joint statement — often a formality at such gatherings.
Reports suggested the statement was scuttled by Pompeo’s insistence that it use the term “Wuhan virus” — a phrase frowned upon by medical professionals who say it is stigmatising.
The origins of the virus notwithstanding, its human cost continued to rise, as did the volume of the alarm bells being rung all over the world.
Iran’s death toll surpassed 2,200 Thursday and Spain’s topped 4,000. Meanwhile health experts cautioned that the sewage-soaked alleyways and bamboo shacks that are home to one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh provide fertile ground for the spread of the disease.
Britain’s National Health Service said London’s hospitals faced a “continuous tsunami” of seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

 


UK government tries to advance coronavirus response with Boris Johnson in ICU

Updated 15 sec ago

UK government tries to advance coronavirus response with Boris Johnson in ICU

  • The virus has hit people from all walks of life — including Johnson, the first world leader known to have been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • Britain was slower than many other European nations to close schools, shut businesses and restrict people’s movements in a bid to curb infections

LONDON: Britain’s government sought Wednesday to keep a grip on the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as Prime Minister Boris Johnson started a third day in the intensive care unit of a London hospital being treated for COVID-19.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab chaired a meeting of the government’s COVID-19 crisis committee while the number of virus-related deaths reported in the UK approached the levels seen in the worst-hit European nations, Italy and Spain.
The country’s confirmed death toll reached 6,159 as of Tuesday, an increase of 786 from 24 hours earlier. That was the biggest daily leap to date, although the deaths reported Tuesday occurred over several days.
The virus has hit people from all walks of life — including Johnson, the first world leader known to have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The 55-year-old prime minister was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital late Sunday with a fever and cough that persisted 10 days after he tested positive for the virus.
He was moved to the ICU on Monday night after his condition deteriorated. UK Health Minister Edward Argar said Wednesday that Johnson is receiving oxygen but still did not require a ventilator, suggesting the prime minister’s condition had not worsened further.
Johnson’s illness has unleashed a wave of sympathy for the prime minister, including from his political opponents. It has also heightened public unease about the government’s response to the outbreak, which faced criticism even with the energetic Johnson at the helm.
Britain was slower than many other European nations to close schools, shut businesses and restrict people’s movements in a bid to curb infections, and the government has struggled to meet its goal of dramatically the number of individuals tested for the virus.
Britain has no official post of deputy or acting prime minister, but Johnson has asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to temporarily take over many of the prime minister’s duties to lead the country’s response to the pandemic.
But Raab’s authority is limited. He can’t fire Cabinet ministers or senior officials, and he won’t hold the prime minister’s weekly audience with Queen Elizabeth II.
In the British political system, the prime minister’s power lies less in the role’s specific responsibilities — which are relatively few — than in the leader’s political capital and authority as “first among equals” in the Cabinet.
That’s especially true in Johnson’s government, which is made up of relatively inexperienced ministers appointed by a prime minister with a big personality and a hefty personal mandate from a resounding election victory in December.
In Johnson’s absence, it’s unclear who would decide whether to ease nationwide lockdown measures the British government imposed on March 23 in response the worldwide pandemic. The initial three-week period set for the restrictions expires next week, but with cases and deaths still growing, officials say it is too soon to change course.
“We need to start seeing the numbers coming down,” Argar told the BBC. “That’s when you have a sense, when that’s sustained over a period of time, that you can see it coming out of that.
“We’re not there yet and I don’t exactly know when we will be. The scientists will tell us that they are constantly modelling the data and they’re constantly looking at those stats.”
Meanwhile, officials are watching anxiously to see whether Britain’s hospitals can cope when the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients reaches its peak. Before the outbreak, the UK had about 5,000 intensive care beds, and the government has been scrambling to increase that capacity.
The Nightingale Hospital — a temporary facility for coronavirus patients built in nine days at London’s vast ExCel conference center — admitted its first patients on Wednesday. It can accommodate 4,000 beds, if needed. even other temporary hospitals are being built around the country.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the city, which is the epicenter of Britain’s outbreak, had one-quarter of its existing hospital beds still available, as well as the new Nightingale hospital.
“It demonstrates the can-do attitude of not just Londoners but those around the country who have helped us get ready for the peak of this virus,” he said.