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Virus wreaks economic havoc as global cases top 17 million

Masks are becoming obligatory in many cities as officials look to stop the virus spreading (AFP Photo/PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU)
Masks are becoming obligatory in many cities as officials look to stop the virus spreading (AFP Photo/PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU)

(AFP)

Economies around the globe reported record slumps on Thursday and companies from banks to car makers warned of losses in the latest fallout from the pandemic that has infected more than 17 million people across the globe.

Six months after the World Health Organization declared a global emergency, countries around the globe are struggling to control infections even as they seek to restart damaged economies.

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Even nations that appeared to have largely curbed the disease are being gripped by resurgences, with Australia on Thursday reporting a record number of new infections and its deadliest day of the pandemic.

Despite efforts in place to contain the virus, COVID-19 has killed more than 667,000 people around the world and total infections have passed 17 million since the disease first emerged in China late last year.

As governments try to weigh lockdown measures against the need to revive economies, the United States said its economy had contracted 32.9 percent in the second quarter — the worst on record since 1947.

That figure was an annual rate — a measure of the full year if damage was translated over 12 months. Compared to the same three-month period a year ago, the US economy dropped 9.5 percent, still the worst figure on record.

Germany said its GDP had shrunk a record 10.1 percent during the same period although experts saw a recovery already on its way.

Belgium and Austria also said their economies shrank by 12.2 percent and 10.7 percent.

Mexico’s economy — Latin America’s largest after Brazil — suffered its worst recorded contraction in the second quarter after being ravaged by the pandemic.

Across the globe, companies were also taking a hit with Airbus, VW, oil producer Shell, UK bank Lloyds and Japanese consumer electronics giant Panasonic all reporting losses.

Britain’s biggest tour operator Tui said it will close 166 stores due to a collapse in foreign travel and shift towards online booking, accelerated by the pandemic.

Global daily cases are now approaching the 300,000 mark, with the curve showing no sign of flattening — it took just 100 hours for one million new cases to be recorded.

The United States — the world’s worst-affected nation — crossed a grim milestone as virus deaths passed 150,000.

Brazil is second to the US in terms of cases and fatalities, and also reported a sobering figure as it surpassed 90,000 deaths.

In Japan, Tokyo’s governor called for restaurants, bars and karaoke parlours to shut earlier as the Japanese capital reported a record number of new infections.

“The current situation is more serious than before,” said Yuriko Koike. “There were several clusters in Tokyo…. We have no time to waste.”

Several French cities on Thursday also announced new face mask requirements and other measures to contain the coronavirus as the number of new cases continues to increase after a long lull.

– Surge in Australia –

Days after Australian authorities expressed hope that a Melbourne lockdown — now in its third week — was bringing persistent outbreaks under control, the surge is a warning that initial successes in managing COVID-19 can quickly unravel.

Thirteen deaths and 723 positive tests were reported in the southeastern state of Victoria alone, well beyond the previous nationwide record of 549 cases set on Monday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the steep rise in numbers was “very concerning”.

In Hong Kong, where authorities fear a worrying third-wave of infections could cripple the healthcare system, the government reversed a day-old ban on restaurants serving dine-in customers following widespread public anger.

All restaurants in the city of 7.5 million had been ordered to only serve takeaways as part of a raft of ramped-up social distancing measures.

But social media was quickly swamped by photos of primarily blue-collar workers forced to eat on pavements and in parks — and even inside public toilets to escape a torrential downpour.

– EU travel list –

The EU updated its list of countries approved for travel to the European bloc, which it reviews every two weeks. The United States was not on the list and it also removed Algeria.

The EU’s safe list does, however, include Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

Several European countries have slapped restrictions on travel to and from Spain, while officials elsewhere bicker over the seriousness of the current outbreak. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fresh from announcing quarantine for travellers returning from Spain, suggested the rest of Europe could be facing a second wave — despite his own country’s dismal figures.

France’s health minister hit back on Wednesday, saying his country was categorically not in a second wave. 

Spain, one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, insists it is a safe destination and was critical of Britain’s blanket quarantine, which includes islands without significant outbreaks.

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Heather Scott with AFP Bureaus

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