People walk near the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, March 8, 2020. A total of 6,387 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Italy since the epidemic first broke out here over two weeks ago, the Civil Protection Department said Sunday. In addition, 366 people have died and 622 recovered, Civil Protection Department Chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters at a televised press conference. (Photo by Alberto Lingria/Xinhua)
People walk near the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, March 8, 2020. A total of 6,387 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Italy since the epidemic first broke out here over two weeks ago, the Civil Protection Department said Sunday. In addition, 366 people have died and 622 recovered, Civil Protection Department Chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters at a televised press conference. (Photo by Alberto Lingria/Xinhua)

As the global tally of COVID-19 cases surpassed 1.5 million on Wednesday, several governments stepped up anti-epidemic measures, notably extended wide-scale lockdown, despite the adverse effect on economy.

Commenting on different countries’ different response to the wide spread disease, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged worldwide solidarity in Geneva on Wednesday, saying, “Unity is the only option to defeat this virus.”

SURGING CASELOAD

A total of 1,500,830 cases have been reported worldwide as of 5:15 p.m. (2115 GMT) Wednesday with 87,706 deaths, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

The United States led the world with 423,135 cases, with nearly 2,000 deaths recorded for a second day in a row. Spain and Italy followed with 146,690 and 139,422 cases, respectively. Countries with over 100,000 cases also include France and Germany, according to the CSSE tally.

Also on Wednesday, Iran reported 1,997 new COVID-19 cases and 121 more deaths, bringing the tally to 64,586 with a death toll of 3,993.

Despite a rising caseload, the pandemic in Iran continued its week-long downward trend. Kianush Jahanpur, head of Public Relations and Information Center of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education, accordingly expressed the hope that Iran would be able to control the pace of the virus spread in the following days.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s tally of infections was poised to pass 40,000. And Brazil has reported a total of 15,927 COVID-19 cases with 800 deaths and the mortality stood at 5 percent.

In Asia, Japan’s national total of COVID-19 infections reached 4,768 a day after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declaring a state of emergency on Tuesday.

South Korea reported 53 more cases within 24 hours as of midnight Wednesday local time, raising its total to 10,384.

As of 6 a.m. (1530 GMT) local time on Wednesday, there have been 5,956 cases in Australia. However, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the number could spike significantly if Australians disregard social distancing rules over the upcoming four-day Easter weekend.

ECONOMIC PAINS

More countries and regions are taking actions like imposing a large-scale lockdown or declaring a state of emergency to contain the spread of the virus, dealing a heavy blow to economy as activities of people and businesses are greatly restricted.

Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez on Wednesday decided to step up COVID-19 containment measures in major cities, including extending a shelter-in-place order due to end on April 12.

Promising “more restrictions,” the president said, “The quarantine must continue because … we have only succeeded in flattening the curve (of the infection rate) and made it slower.”

After Japan declared the state of emergency effect until May 6, major Japanese cities including Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka, became unusually quiet on Wednesday, with many businesses closed and fewer people on streets.

Tokyo stocks opened marginally lower Thursday as the market mood was dampened by ongoing concerns over the global economic impact of the coronavirus.

On Wednesday, Germany’s leading economic institutes forecast that the economic output of Germany, Europe’s main engine of growth, was likely to shrink by 4.2 percent in 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus with its unemployment rate rising to 5.9 percent at its peak in 2020.

Though governments worldwide have rolled out billions of U.S. dollars of economic stimulus to guard vulnerable industries such as retailing, traffic and manufacturing, massive layoffs seem to be unavoidable with small private businesses being the worst-hit by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The International Labour Organization said in a Tuesday report that more than four out of five people, or 81 percent in the global workforce of 3.3 billion are currently affected by full or partial workplace closures due to COVID-19 pandemic.

“There will be financial disruptions and the fiscal cost of rescue will severely burden the U.S. government’s budget position for a long time to come,” Sourabh Gupta, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for China-America Studies, told Xinhua on Wednesday.

SOLIDARITY BEST WEAPON

As new COVID-19 cases in the United States surged with a daily growth of nearly 2,000 for the second day in a row, U.S. stocks index however rallied on Wednesday as investors seem to stay hopeful about a potential slowdown in the COVID-19 growth following reported peaks.

Nevertheless, Spainish Health Minister Salvador Illa said the country has “reached the peak of contagion.”

The positive mood somehow splits the frontline against the pandemic as some governments are considering to relax the quarantine measures, hoping to save the battered economy, while some western leader blamed the World Health Organization (WHO) for its response to the disease.

Relaxing the lockdown “in these conditions, without precise knowledge of how the coronavirus epidemic has evolved and will evolve, is rather difficult to imagine,” said Dr. Ranieri Guerra, who sits on the Technical and Scientific Committee advising the Italian government on how to handle the pandemic, and an assistant director-general for strategic initiatives at the WHO.

Referring to a plateau of the COVID-19 cases observed in Italy, Guerra said, “This means there is a reservoir of asymptomatic coronavirus carriers, which continues to guarantee the circulation of the virus.”

“The WHO, with thousands of its staff, is on the front lines, supporting member states and their societies, especially the most vulnerable among them, with guidance, training, equipment and concrete life-saving services as they fight the virus,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday, in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to freeze U.S. funding to the WHO,

“It is my belief that the WHO must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19,” Guterres said in a statement.

“The lesson that the coronavirus is leaving us with is that we are very far from global governance,” said Ignacio Martinez Cortes, professor of political science at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, stressing the lack of international cooperation at the moment.

In the view of Gupta, “the WHO should have as much standing and prominence as the IMF (International Monetary Fund) within the multilateral system.”

“And like the IMF’s annual Article IV surveillance of country financial and economic risks, the WHO should also be tasked to conduct a review of country public health preparedness capabilities every, say, three years,” Gupta said.

“Now, the United States and China, all the rest of G20 and the rest of the world should come together to fight the virus,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, warning that “When there are cracks at the national level and global level, that’s when the virus succeeds.” Enditem

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