As the coronavirus epicentre shifts to Europe, the world’s richest nations are taking unprecedented steps to stem the effects of the outbreak on the global economy.
Aid is being poured into a number of industries, with tourism and airlines hard hit, as the world’s citizens hunker down to minimise contact and curb the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 respiratory illness.
But few sectors have been spared by a crisis threatening a prolonged global recession.
The moves come as the number of deaths in Italy surpass those in mainland China, where the virus originated.
With more than 242,000 infections and nearly 10,000 deaths, the epidemic has drawn comparisons with painful periods such as World War II, the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu.
UN chief Antonio Guterres warned a global recession, “perhaps of record dimensions”, was a near certainty.
“This is a moment that demands co-ordinated, decisive and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies,” Mr Guterres told reporters via a video conference on Thursday (local time).
“We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply.”
The United States is urging Americans not to travel abroad at all and could announce restrictions at the US-Mexican border today. They would be similar to the closure of the US-Canada border to non-essential traffic.
“If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite time frame,” the US State Department said on Thursday (local time).
Markets have suffered routs unseen since the 2008 financial debacle, with investors rushing to the US dollar as a safe haven. Wall Street tried to bounce back on Thursday (local time). The benchmark S&P 500 closed up 0.5 per cent, still about 30 per cent off highs reached last month. US oil prices posted their largest one-day gain ever, rising 25 per cent.
Policymakers in the United States, Europe and Asia have slashed interest rates and opened liquidity taps to try to stabilise economies hit by quarantined consumers, broken supply chains, disrupted transport and paralysed businesses.
Record jump in new cases across the world
The virus, thought to have originated from wildlife in mainland China late last year, has jumped to 172 other nations and territories with more than 20,000 new cases reported in the past 24 hours – a daily record.
Cases in Germany, Iran and Spain rose to more than 12,000 each. An official in Tehran tweeted that the coronavirus was killing one person every 10 minutes.
Britain, which has reported 144 deaths, was closing dozens of underground stations in London and ordering schools shut from Friday (local time).
About 20,000 soldiers were on standby, Queen Elizabeth headed for sanctuary at Windsor Castle and the Tower of London was to close along with other historic buildings.
With heavy hearts, we’re raising the drawbridge 🏰
In light of recent govt advice the Tower will close from Friday evening. This extraordinary building has withstood a great deal in its 1,000 year history, and we’ll bounce back from this too.
Stay tuned, and stay safe 👑 pic.twitter.com/BEiEhkkE0k
— The Tower of London (@TowerOfLondon) March 19, 2020
“Many of us will need to find new ways of staying in touch with each other and making sure that loved ones are safe,” she said in an address to the nation.
“I am certain we are up to that challenge.”
Italian soldiers transported corpses overnight from an overwhelmed cemetery in Europe’s worst-hit nation where 3405 people have died, more than in mainland China. Germany’s military was also preparing to help.
Supermarkets in many countries were besieged with shoppers stocking up on food staples and hygiene products.
Russia reported its first coronavirus death on Thursday (local time).
China provided a ray of hope as it reported zero new local transmissions of the virus. Imported cases accounted for all 34 new infections in China.
In the United States, where President Donald Trump had initially played down the coronavirus threat, infections surged with more than 11,500 known cases and at least 186 deaths.
Mr Trump has angered Beijing by rebuking it for not acting faster and drawn accusations of racism by referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus”.
In a bewildering raft of financial measures around the world, the European Central Bank launched new bond purchases worth 750 billion euros ($1.4 trillion), the US Federal Reserve rolled out its third emergency credit program in two days, and the Bank of England cut interest rates to 0.1 per cent, its second emergency rate cut in just more than a week.
China was to unleash trillions of yuan of fiscal stimulus and South Korea pledged 50 trillion won ($A69.5 billion).
The desperate state of industry was writ large in Detroit, where the big three auto makers – Ford Motor Co, General Motors Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV – were shutting US plants, as well as factories in Canada and Mexico.
Some automakers have pledged to help manufacture much needed medical supplies.
In Britain, small gin distilleries have started producing hand sanitiser amid a national shortage, a trend mirrored across the globe from Australia to the United States.
Monaco has cancelled its Formula One Grand Prix in another high-profile sporting casualty of the epidemic.
— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) March 19, 2020
Borders sealed to stem coronavirus spread
President Donald Trump will cancel an in-person meeting of G7 leaders at Camp David in June because of the coronavirus and will hold a video conference instead, the White House says.
The decision comes as nations around the world seal their borders and ban travel to stop the virus’s spread.
Mr Trump held a videoconference with the leaders of the world’s major industrialised countries earlier this week and plans to repeat that in April, May and June, when the physical meeting at the presidential retreat in Maryland was scheduled to take place.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who also serves as Mr Trump’s G7 “sherpa”, has informed his counterparts about the move.
The White House views the change as part of mitigation efforts to fight the virus. Countries usually send large delegations with their leaders to G7 summits and journalists from around the world convene to cover their meeting as well.