China warned Friday that its huge economy will suffer an immense hit from the coronavirus, as the ongoing pandemic and national lockdowns cause massive global job losses and Russia faces a steep increase in deaths.
As Beijing’s communist rulers failed to set an annual growth target for the first time in decades, Asian markets and Wall Street fell, further undermined by Chinese moves to crack down on Hong Kong’s treasured autonomy.
China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba added to the gloom by reporting an 88 percent drop in first quarter net profit, despite higher than forecast revenue.
The rates of new coronavirus infections have begun to dip in much of the world, but the economic damage from the pandemic is only just beginning, and the disease is continuing its deadly march Russia and Latin America.
The World Health Organization warned Friday that a surge of infections in South America had made it “a new epicentre” of the pandemic.
Russia meanwhile reported its highest ever daily coronavirus death toll of 150, suggesting COVID-19 is not yet under control in the world’s biggest country by area.
“There will be a significant mortality increase in May,” Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova told a government meeting, vowing that doctors would try to “save the maximum number of patients.”
Russia has already recorded 3,249 deaths and 326,448 cases, the second-highest number of infections in the world after the United States.
Governments are still struggling to balance measures to halt the virus — and to head off a feared possible second wave of infections — with moves to reopen their battered economies.
Britain confirmed Friday that it would impose a 14-day quarantine on international arrivals in addition to its ongoing social distancing rules, but US President Donald Trump is pressing to reopen his country’s economy.
Serbia said one of Europe’s biggest music events, the Exit Festival in Novi Sad, could go ahead in August as planned, and in Italy Florence’s famous Duomo cathedral reopened to the public.
France decided that it was safe to hold a delayed second round of municipal elections on June 28, and the Czech Republic said the epidemic remains contained there, two weeks after shopping malls, cinemas and restaurant terraces reopened.
But news elsewhere was less positive.
Iran renewed an appeal for citizens to avoid unnecessary travel after another 51 deaths.
In the world’s most populous country China, Premier Li Keqiang told the opening of the National People’s Congress that, given the “great uncertainty” caused by the pandemic, Beijing will not set a growth target but “give priority to stabilising employment and ensuring living standards”.
In Washington, Trump — with an eye on his re-election prospects in November — made it clear he hopes more US state governors will move towards a loosening of anti-virus restrictions.
“We did the right thing but we now want to get going… you’ll break the country if you don’t,” he told African-American leaders in Michigan.
Another 2.43 million Americans were put out of work last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, bringing the total of newly jobless to 38.6 million since lockdowns were put in place.
Deaths are still mounting in the US, with the total surpassing 94,000, and Trump ordered flags at federal buildings be flown at half-mast for three days for the victims.
Trump says he has been taking the drug hydroxychloroquine in the hope that it will protect him, but a major study of 100,000 patients published Friday by medical journal the Lancet found it offer no benefit in treating the disease and even increases the chance of dying in hospital.
‘It doesn’t stop’
While many European countries have significantly curbed the contagion, Latin America is becoming a new hotspot.
Brazil — now home to the third-highest number of cases in the world after the US and Russia — has recorded more than 20,000 deaths and hit a record 24-hour toll of 1,188.
Grave diggers at a cemetery outside Sao Paulo are scrambling to keep up.
“We’ve been working 12-hour days, burying them one after the other. It doesn’t stop,” said one worker at Vila Formosa, wearing a white protective suit, mask and face shield.
Peru, Mexico and Chile have also seen steady increases in infections.
The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has left an extra 11.5 million people unemployed in Latin America, the International Labour Organization said Thursday.
The new estimate would mean a total of 37.7 million people in the region are now unemployed.
The death toll worldwide has now surpassed 332,000, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.
More than 5.1 million infections have been recorded globally.