WASHINGTON: The scale of economic devastation from the pandemic was revealed as Western economies recorded historic slumps as resurgent caseloads forced many countries into new trade-offs between health and financial stability.
Six months after the World Health Organisation declared a global emergency, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 17 million people across the globe.
The WHO warned that young people are “not invincible” and were helping to drive resurgences in many places that had largely curbed the disease.
“Spikes of cases in some countries are being driven in part by younger people letting down their guard during the northern hemisphere summer,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
COVID-19 has killed more than 667,000 people and has forced governments into a persistent balancing act between saving lives and preventing economic devastation.
The United States posted a second-quarter loss of 9.5 percent compared with the same period a year ago, the worst figure on record. If the trajectory carried through the entire year, its economy would collapse by nearly a third (32.9 percent), the data showed.
Historic contractions were also recorded in Germany (10.1 percent), Belgium (12.2 percent), Austria (10.7 percent) and Mexico (17 percent). Across the globe, companies were also taking a hit with Volkswagen, oil producer Shell, UK bank Lloyds and Japanese consumer electronics giant Panasonic all reporting huge losses.
Global daily cases are now approaching the 300,000 mark, with the curve showing no sign of flattening – it took just 100 hours for one million new cases to be recorded. The US surpassed 150,000 deaths, while the second-worst-hit country Brazil reached 90,000.
Several French and Dutch cities, including tourist favourites Biarritz and Amsterdam, also announced new face mask requirements. Sweden said it would encourage people to keep working from home into next year where possible, as the country passed 80,000 recorded cases.
In Australia, there were 723 positive tests in the southeastern state of Victoria alone, well beyond the previous nationwide record of 549 cases set on Monday. Iceland recorded its first hospitalisation since mid-May, as well as 31 new cases, forcing the government to reimpose social distancing and masks, and limit the size of gatherings to 100.
Hong Kong, which was also initially lauded for its coronavirus response, is struggling to balance fears of a third wave among its 7.5 million residents, which authorities fear could cripple the healthcare system, against anger at new restrictions.
US travellers remain barred from the EU after the latest fortnightly update to its list of safe countries. Algeria was removed after a spike in cases. The EU’s safe list currently consists of Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay — and would also include China if Beijing reciprocated.
Several European countries have slapped restrictions on travel to and from Spain. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fresh from announcing quarantine for travellers returning from Spain, suggested the rest of Europe could be facing a second wave — despite his own country’s dismal figures.