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Half a million people infected worldwide as economic toll rises

World News | Published:

The death toll climbed to about 23,000.

The human and economic toll of the lockdowns against coronavirus mounted as Italy shut down most of its industry, and more than three million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in a single week.

As the number of infections around the globe reached half a million and the death toll climbed to about 23,000, the damage to people’s livelihoods and their wellbeing from the effort to flatten the rising curve 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.

Virus Outbreak India
A group of Indian labourers in Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of New Delhi (Altaf Qadri/AP)

India has the world’s second-highest number of people living in extreme poverty.

Rickshaw drivers, produce peddlers, maids, day labourers and other low-wage workers form the backbone of the economy, and many live day to day on their pay and have no savings to fall back on.

The Indian government announced a 1.7 trillion rupee (£18 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 United States – New York State, the worst hotspot in the nation, accounted for about 400 of the US deaths.

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In Europe, companies are laying off workers at the fastest pace since 2009, according to surveys of business managers. And the US is also losing jobs: The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week was nearly five times the old record, set in 1982.

In a rare positive sign, stocks rallied on Wall Street for the third straight day after an unprecedented economic rescue package to help businesses, hospitals and ordinary Americans pull through the crisis cleared the Senate.

South Africa, with the most industrialised economy in Africa, headed into a three-week lockdown starting on Friday. The country is already in recession, with an unemployment rate of 29%.

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– 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 Middle East, 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.

– The leaders of the Group of 20 major industrialised nations held a video summit for safety reasons and vowed to work together to confront the crisis but made no specific commitments.

– In Brazil, the country’s governors are defying 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.

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