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Virus lawsuits hit governments as markets rebound from second-wave fears

"Italy is slowly creeping back to life, but its PM has come under fire for his handling of the virus crisis - ANDREA PATTARO / ©AFP"
"Italy is slowly creeping back to life, but its PM has come under fire for his handling of the virus crisis - ANDREA PATTARO / ©AFP"

(AFP)

Governments faced some of the first legal action Friday over their handling of the coronavirus as global markets began to rebound from losses fuelled by fears of a second wave of the pandemic.

The recovery in stocks came despite fresh evidence of the scale of the economic damage caused by lockdowns, with the British economy shrinking by a record 20.4 percent in April and eurozone industrial output hammered.

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In Italy, one of the countries initially worst hit after the disease emerged in China last year, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was questioned by prosecutors Friday over the government’s initial response.

Prosecutors from Bergamo, the northern city worst hit by the virus, have launched an investigation into why a quarantined “red zone” was not enforced around two towns back in February, a month before a national lockdown.

Italy will meanwhile from Monday enter a new de-confinement phase which will see amateur contact sports — including team sports — allowed from June 25.

And in Britain, airlines British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair launched legal action against the UK government over a “flawed” 14-day coronavirus quarantine system introduced this week. 

Britain has the world’s second highest coronavirus death toll after the United States, with more than 41,000 deaths. Worldwide, the pandemic has killed more than 421,000 people and infected over 7.5 million.

– Trump rally virus waiver –

Fears of a second wave of the virus in the United States plagued markets on Thursday after a spike in new infections in key states including Texas, California, Arizona and Florida, which fanned concerns as the nation slowly reopens.

However after sharp losses overnight on Wall Street, European equity markets rebounded Friday as investors snapped up bargains after the previous day’s rout.

Asian stocks fell sharply at the open but then steadied somewhat.

Worries continue about a resurgence in the United States, where President Donald Trump announced plans for a set of reelection rallies this month, despite signs that the pandemic is not tamed there, with more than two million infections and nearly 114,000 deaths.

Trump supporters who attend the rallies must sign a waiver promising not to sue if they catch COVID-19 at the event, according to his campaign website.

The virus and resulting lockdowns have caused a spike in US unemployment — 44.2 million people have been forced out of jobs since mid-March.

Meanwhile in China, Beijing said Friday it would delay primary school students returning to class after three fresh coronavirus cases emerged in the capital — the first after two months of no infections in the city.

China has largely brought domestic coronavirus infections under control since the disease emerged in the central city of Wuhan, and the majority of cases in recent months have been among overseas nationals returning home.

– ‘Fight is not over’ –

Health officials have warned that the virus is far from contained.

“The fight is not over,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday.

“Most people remain susceptible to this virus and the threat of resurgence remains very real.” 

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin on Friday was set to make his first public appearance after weeks of lockdown as Russia reported nearly 9,000 new coronavirus cases in one day.

And in Central and South America, more than 1.5 million people have been infected — 70,000 of them are already dead — with no signs of the disease slowing, especially in hard-hit Brazil.

The crisis could provoke the region’s “worst recession in history”, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said.

In India, experts are warning the country is still a long way from its peak.

Deaths from coronavirus in New Delhi are almost twice as high as official figures show, a city leader said, as India overtook Britain with the fourth-highest number of cases worldwide.

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Alexandria Sage, with AFP bureaus

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