The Chinese city at the origin of the coronavirus outbreak revised up its death toll by 50 percent Friday, as global criticism mounted over China’s handling of the deadly pandemic.
Since emerging from Wuhan late last year, the coronavirus has embarked on a deadly march across the planet, killing more than 145,000 people and wrecking the global economy with more than half of humanity — 4.5 billion people — trapped indoors.
Corona pandemic has created serious concerns across the western world – government circles, think tanks and universities – that economic challenges and political unrest can erode the “Liberal World Order” that is continuing since the end of Second World War.
After the collapse of Soviet Union, it was presumed by the US thinkers – like Francis Fukuyama – that this western led liberal order will continue for ever – thesis known as, “The End of the History” Many including Kissinger have written about it.
China will have to decide if it will emerge as the “villain” or the “hero” of this new world order? Must Read for students of IR, politics, media & CSS/PMS aspirants! https://t.co/THQKY8vITv
— Moeed Pirzada (@MoeedNj) April 16, 2020
Europe: signs of recovery?
But some countries across Europe are starting to slowly ease back weeks-old restrictions after deaths and infections showed signs of stabilizing, and the German health minister said Friday his country’s outbreak was “under control”.
While President Donald Trump announced a phased reopening of the United States, the economic devastation was clear to see in China, where gross domestic product slammed into reverse for the first time since records began.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) April 17, 2020
Was China hiding its figures of deaths?
Wuhan’s city government added 1,290 deaths to its toll, bringing the total to 3,869 after many dead were “mistakenly reported” or missed entirely, adding to growing global doubts over China’s transparency.
Leaders in France and Britain joined Trump’s broadsides against China, as two US media outlets reported suspicions the virus accidentally slipped out of a sensitive Wuhan laboratory that studied bats.
President Emmanuel Macron told the Financial Times it would be “naive” to think China had handled the pandemic well, adding: “There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about.”
Beijing hit back on Friday, insisting there had been no cover-up.
“There has never been any concealment, and we’ll never allow any concealment,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Will the United States open soon?
World leaders are grappling with the question of when — and how — to reopen society, seeking a life-and-death balance between unfreezing stalled economies and preventing a deadly second coronavirus wave.
While Trump declared Thursday that the time had come for the “next front in our war” with a phased reboot of the US economy, others took the opposite path — Japan, Britain and Mexico all expanded current restrictions.
Despite the United States suffering a staggering 4,500 deaths in the last 24 hours — taking the national toll to almost 33,000 — Trump proclaimed: “We’re opening up our country.”
The president’s approach was a step back from previous hopes for a sudden reopening however, and state governors were given the freedom to set their own plans to resume business.
Lightly affected states can open “literally tomorrow”, said Trump, while others would receive White House “freedom and guidance” to achieve that at their own pace.
In New York state for example — where more than 11,500 have died — Governor Andrew Cuomo extended a shutdown order until May 15.
In some of the world’s most vulnerable economies, lockdown measures were starting to pinch.
Tobacco farmers in Zimbabwe feared a delayed start to normally busy auction season, the lifeblood for thousands of growers in impoverished rural regions.
“This year our harvest hasn’t been good at all… just average,” farmer Shaw Mutalepo told AFP, as workers in face masks crunched cured leaves into large bales.
“We might have a delay (in selling) just because of the lockdown,” he added. “It will affect our preparations for the next season.”
Chinese Economy shrining?
Meanwhile, there were more signs the global economy is imploding.
China reported Friday its GDP shrank 6.8 percent in the first quarter, the first contraction since quarterly growth data started in the early 1990s.
In the US, another 5.2 million workers lost their jobs, bringing the total number of newly unemployed to a staggering 22 million since mid-March.
NEW: In update to World Economic Outlook released Tuesday, IMF forecasts a sharp and sustained downturn because of coronavirus pandemic.
“It is very likely that this year the global economy will experience its worst recession since the Great Depression." https://t.co/L0oylrov8n
— NBC News World (@NBCNewsWorld) April 14, 2020
John Williams, a top Federal Reserve official, predicted it would take “a year or two” if not longer for the US to recover from what the International Monetary Fund has termed the “Great Lockdown” battering the global economy.
The virus could spark another “lost decade” in Latin America, the IMF warned, while experts cautioned that freezing debt for poor countries will not save many developing world economies.
And in Europe, automobile sales shrank 55 percent in March, according to the industry’s trade association.
Germany: Did better than rest of Europe
Some European countries — such as hard-hit Spain and Italy — were embarking on a long road back to normality, with Venice residents strolling around quiet canals stripped of their usual throngs of tourists.
Switzerland, Denmark and Finland were among those gradually re-opening shops and schools.
In Germany, select small shops will be allowed to reopen Monday and some children could soon return to school within weeks.
Infection rates there “have sunk significantly” and the outbreak is “under control”, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday.
Germany’s coronavirus deaths and infections have stood firmly below some of their worst-hit European neighbours, which experts say is in part thanks to widespread testing.
Spahn said Germany would produce up to 50 million masks a week starting in August, to fill a yawning gap in supplies prompted by the pandemic.
But Britain, which shut down later than continental Europe, extended its lockdown for at least three more weeks.
It announced close to 850 new deaths on Friday, a slight spike from previous days that saw fatalities start to draw down.
Read more: Second wave of coronavirus cases hits China
And in Russia, recorded infections topped 32,000 as President Vladmir Putin warned that “the risks surrounding the epidemic’s spread are still very high, not just in Moscow but in many other Russian regions”.
Around the world, people have come up with ingenious ways to bring back some semblance of normality — and social connection — to their upended lives.
In Rome an 18-year-old guitarist takes to his balcony every evening at sunset to play covers of Italian classics.
“We decided to lend a hand to Italians: a message of hope,” Jacopo Mastrangelo told AFP from his patio.
“We are accustomed to always seeing Rome full, teeming with people. Now the grass is growing between the cobblestones, everything has been left abandoned, and we decided to help.”
AFP with additional input from GVS News Desk.