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.

 


Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

Muslims attend Friday Prayers at the Great Mosque of Al Azhar in Jakarta, Indonesia, as government eases restrictions amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, June 5, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 June 2020

Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

  • Mosque capacity reduced to half, with health protocols in place
  • Jakarta remains center of the pandemic in Indonesia

JAKARTA: Mosques in Jakarta welcomed congregations for Friday prayers for the first time after an 11-week shutdown due to coronavirus curbs as the Indonesian capital began to ease control measures.

“I am grateful I can perform Friday prayers again after almost three months,” Ilham Roni, a worshipper at Cut Meutia Mosque in Central Jakarta, told Arab News.

“As a Jakarta resident, I have been complying with city regulations. Now that we can pray again, I follow the health protocols by maintaining social distance, wearing a facial mask and washing my hands (before entering the mosque).”

Mosques are opened by a caretaker 30 minutes before prayer starts and are closed 30 minutes after the conclusion of the congregational prayer.

Caretakers at Al I’thisom Mosque in South Jakarta have been preparing since Tuesday, even before Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan announced on Thursday that the city is extending its COVID-19 restrictions for the third time since measures came into force on April 10.

The capital is easing lockdown curbs in phases, starting with the reopening of places of worship on Friday, although capacity has been halved and strict health protocols put in place.

“We did not know if we would be allowed to reopen the mosque, but we kept preparing to put out markings just in case, and on Thursday we got the confirmation,” one of the mosque caretakers Sumidi, who goes only by one name, told Arab News.

He said the mosque now can only accommodate 400 worshippers out of its normal 1,000 capacity.

Caretakers have put up markings to keep a 1.2-meter distance between worshippers inside the mosque, while in its parking lot, the distance is maintained at 97 cm. Hand-washing facilities have been installed at the entrance.

The governor did not set a fixed date for the extension to end, although the most likely time frame is until the end of June as the city is in a transition mode throughout the month.

Workplaces and businesses with standalone locations can open from June 8, to be followed by non-food retailers in malls and shopping centers from June 15. Recreational parks will be allowed to reopen on June 21.

“Essentially, all activities are allowed to accommodate 50 percent of their normal capacity and by strictly maintaining social distancing measures. The movement of people has to be engineered to meet this criteria,” Baswedan said during a live press conference. “This is the golden rule during the transition phase.”

"If we see a spike in new cases during this phase, the city administration will have to enforce its authority to halt these eased restrictions. It is our ‘emergency brake’ policy,” Baswedan said.

Jakarta remains the center of the pandemic in Indonesia, although infections in the city no longer account for half or more of the national tally, as has been the case since the outbreak was confirmed in Indonesia in early March.

As of June 5, Jakarta accounts for 7,766 cases of infections out of the 29,521 in the national total, with 524 deaths out of 1,770 who have died in the country.

Baswedan said since the introduction of restrictions in mid-March, the city has seen a significant drop in infections and deaths following a peak in mid-April.

But the transition phase depends on the residents’ continued strict compliance with virus-control measures, he said.

“We will evaluate by the end of June. If all indicators are good, we can begin the second phase,” Baswedan said.

“We don’t want to go back to the way it was in the previous month.”