Half-million infected worldwide as economic toll rises
The human and economic toll of the lockdowns against the coronavirus mounted Thursday as India struggled to feed the multitudes, Italy shut down most of its industry, and a record-shattering 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in a single week.
As the number of infections around the globe reached a half-million and world leaders held a video summit to grapple with how long to keep the economy at a standstill to help flatten the rising curve, the damage to people’s livelihoods and their well-being started to come into focus.
In India, where the country’s 1.3 billion people were under orders to stay home, legions of poor were suddenly thrown out of work, and many families were left struggling for something to eat.
"Our first concern is food, not the virus," said Suresh Kumar, 60, a bicycle rickshaw rider in New Delhi whose family of six relies on his daily earnings of 300 rupees, or $4. "I don’t know how I will manage."
India has the world’s second-highest number of people living in extreme poverty. Rickshaw drivers, produce peddlers, maids, day laborers and other low-wage workers form the backbone of the economy, and many live day to day on their wages and have no savings to fall back on.
The Indian government announced a 1.7 trillion rupee ($22 billion) economic stimulus package that will deliver monthly rations of grain and lentils to a staggering 800 million people.
Around the globe, the death toll stood at nearly 8,200 in Italy, more than 4,100 in Spain and over 1,000 in the U.S., approximately 400 of them in New York State, the worst hotspot in the nation.
The United Nations estimated that as many as 25 million jobs could be lost in the economic upheaval, more than during the global financial meltdown of 2008.
In Europe, companies are laying off workers at the fastest pace since 2009, according to surveys of business managers. And the U.S. is bleeding jobs as well: The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week was nearly five times the old record, set in 1982.
New Orleans restaurant owner and caterer Keisha Henry said she lost $10,000 in revenue last week after three big functions she was supposed to cater were canceled. She had to lay off several employees.
"I wish I could just keep them on and pay them, but being a small business, I don’t have enough capital to pay for the employees when we are not putting out a product," she said.
In what seemed like a rare positive sign, stocks rallied on Wall Street for the third straight day after an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package to help businesses, hospitals and ordinary Americans pull through the crisis cleared the Senate. The plan, which is expected to be voted on in the House on Friday, would dispense checks of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.
From Fifth Avenue Piccadilly Circus, in city after city, restaurants, hotels, airlines, giant chains and small shops are all shuttered, as cities, states and entire countries have ordered the closing of nonessential businesses and instructed people to stay home.
Italy, the eurozone’s third-biggest economy and a major exporter of machinery, textiles and other goods, became the first Western developed nation to idle most of its industry, extending a shutdown on smaller, nonessential businesses to heavy manufacturers.
Among the companies that have shut down or rolled back production: Fiat Chrysler, Ferrari, Pirelli tires and Luxottica eyewear, maker of Ray-Bans and Oakleys.
The industrial lobby Confindustria estimates a cost of 70 billion to 100 billion euros ($77 billion-$110 billion) of national wealth a month if 70% of companies are closed, as anticipated.
"We are entering a war economy," said Confindustria President Vincenzo Boccia.
In other developments:
__ China said it is temporarily barring most foreigners from entering as it tries to curb imported cases. Reports of new cases from inside the country have stopped.
__ In the Mideast, Saudi Arabia announced a total lockdown on the capital, Riyadh, and Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, in addition to a nationwide curfew. In the United Arab Emirates, authorities announced an overnight weekend lockdown and used drones to tell people to stay home.
__ In New York, the state’s death toll jumped by 100 in one day, pushing the number to 385, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. He added that experts expect the number to increase as critically ill patients who have been on ventilators for several days succumb to the virus. "That is a situation where people just deteriorate over time," Cuomo said.
__ The leaders of the Group of 20 major industrialized nations vowed to work together to confront the crisis but made no specific commitments.
__ In Brazil, the country’s governors are defied President Jair Bolsonaro over his call to reopen schools and businesses, dismissing his argument that the "cure" of widespread shutdowns is worse than the disease. As of Thursday, the country had more than 2,500 cases and 59 deaths.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
So far, more than 115,000 people have recovered, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University.