US leads huge economic fightback against virus, EU shuts borders
WASHINGTON: The United States and Britain led a multi-billion-dollar global fightback against economic havoc wreaked by the coronavirus as the European Union shut its borders to travellers from outside for 30 days to stem the pandemic's ferocious spread.
The sweeping measures, never before seen in peacetime, have upended society worldwide and roiled financial markets on fears of a global recession.
The coronavirus outbreak, which first emerged in China late last year, has quickly marched across the globe, infecting nearly 200,000 people and killing 7,900 as governments scramble to contain it.
Following criticism that they were mismanaging their crisis response, London and Washington on Tuesday announced massive economic stimulus packages.
President Donald Trump said the White House was discussing a "substantial" spending bill with Congress that would include immediate cash payments to Americans.
Officials did not give hard numbers but The Washington Post reported the amount could reach $850 billion, with a chunk destined for airlines fearing ruin. "We're going big," Trump told reporters.
British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak also unveiled an "unprecedented package" of government-backed loans worth 330bn pounds ($400bn) for businesses struggling in the sudden economic paralysis caused by mass self-quarantine.
France has pledged a 45bn euro ($50bn) aid package.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meanwhile confirmed the 30-day "entry ban" into the EU.
European countries were already in near-total internal lockdown, with Belgium starting from Wednesday until at least April 5.
The World Health Organisation urged the "boldest actions" on the continent, the pandemic's latest epicentre.
In the United States, restrictions continued to build, with Maryland becoming the latest state to delay presidential election primaries and New York City considering curfews.
Australia urged citizens to not travel abroad, and banned gatherings of more than 100 people.
Asian hotspots China and South Korea have seen new infections and deaths level out in recent weeks — China reported just one new domestic case for the second consecutive day on Wednesday — but numbers are ballooning across Europe.
Africa, with its fragile healthcare systems, has also recorded more than 400 cases, and Latin America has more than 1,100, with the continent's most populated country Brazil confirming its first death on Tuesday. - AFP