Criticism was heaped on US President Donald Trump on Wednesday after he ordered a freeze on funding for the World Health Organization, with friends and foes of the United States calling for global solidarity in the fight against the coronavirus and its economic devastation.
The pandemic is entering a new and uncertain phase as governments debate how to reboot commerce without triggering new infection waves of a virus that has killed more than 125,000 people.
In hard-hit Europe, a patchwork of countries are easing lockdown measures, with Denmark the first on the continent to send some children back to school and Germany announcing it would allow most shops to open with “plans to maintain hygiene”.
Yet in poorer and more densely populated parts of the world, many governments are still struggling to enforce restrictions on movement that are piling misery on the needy and spreading hunger.
On the horizon looms the worst economic downturn in a century, which the International Monetary Fund has said could see $9 trillion wiped from the global economy.
Offering a lifeline for the world’s poorest countries, the G20 — a group of the world’s leading economies — said it would temporarily suspend debt repayments from the most impoverished nations.
The reprieve will free up more than $20 billion for those countries to focus on the pandemic and will last at least a year, according to Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan.
But the global economic outlook remains gloomy, with Europe’s powerhouse Germany already in recession and US industrial output declining by 6.3 percent — its biggest fall in seven decades.
More than a third of French workers are on temporary unemployment, the government said Wednesday, as the virus toll topped 17,000 while hospital numbers went down for the first time.
As the world tries to chart a way out of the crisis, Trump ramped up his blame-game with the WHO, the UN’s health agency.
Accusing the WHO of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”, Trump ordered a freeze on payments — the US was its top individual donor last year giving $400 million.
The outbreak could have been contained “with very little death” if the WHO had accurately assessed the situation when the disease broke out late last year in China, Trump alleged.
Allies and enemies of the US fired back at the American leader, who played down the dangers of the virus until it arrived in full force in the US, where it has now chalked up its highest death tolls.