The United States on Wednesday crossed the 100,000 mark in coronavirus-related deaths, a figure that attests to the scale of the tragedy in the country, while Europe unveiled an exceptional plan to revive its economy which, like those around the world, has collapsed under the impact of the pandemic.
At a time when Asia seems to be on the way out of the crisis but South America is getting bogged down, the social and economic cost of the epidemic, which is added to the terrible human toll, is becoming more apparent every day.
The first death of COVID-19 in the United States was announced at the end of February. The country now has more than 100 000 deaths and nearly 1.7 million cases of new coronavirus, according to the Johns Hopkins University count, which is the benchmark.
The actual number of deaths and infections, however, is much higher, according to experts. In proportion to its 330 million inhabitants, the American death toll is lower than that of several European countries.
Worldwide, the 350,000 mark was crossed on Wednesday, with more than three-quarters of the deaths in Europe and the United States.
Against this bleak background, the European Commission unveiled on Wednesday an exceptional €750 billion recovery plan.
Arduous negotiations now await the 27, which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for “old prejudices to be set aside”.
Fuelled by large-scale borrowing on behalf of the EU, two-thirds of it will be in the form of grants and one-third in the form of loans.
Among those most affected by the health crisis, Italy and Spain could receive more than €172 billion and €140 billion respectively through this instrument.
France would be the fourth largest beneficiary, after Poland, with 38.7 billion in grants. Paris hopes for an agreement of the 27 on this plan by July, but foresees “difficult” negotiations with the so-called “frugal” countries (Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Sweden), which are hostile to it.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, while welcoming the positive points, described the plan as a “basis for negotiations”, believing that the share between subsidies and loans should be discussed.
New Latin American epicentre
In Latin America, the daily number of new infections has surpassed that of Europe and the United States, making the Latin American continent “undoubtedly” the new epicenter of the pandemic, according to the Washington-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
The spread of the coronavirus is “accelerating” in Brazil, Peru and Chile, says the regional office of the World Health Organization, which says it is “particularly concerned” and calls on these countries to continue to take measures to slow the spread of the virus.
“The number of new cases recorded last week in Brazil is the highest in a seven-day period since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Carissa Etienne, Director of PAHO.
Peru recorded a record 5,772 new infections in 24 hours on Tuesday, for a total of nearly 130,000 cases.
Economic and social indicators are in the red around the world.
According to the NGO Oxfam, the health crisis could plunge 500 million people into poverty.
“I cover my face because I’m really ashamed, I never asked for food”, says Jacqueline Alvarez, 42, who lines up with nearly 700 others in front of an association in the popular district of Aluche, in Madrid, which has been turned into a food bank.
In Spain – where between 13 March and 22 May there were 43,000 more deaths than the average for the past 10 years – poverty is exploding faster than it did during the 2008 financial crisis.
But the whole world is affected.
In Brazil, experts expect GDP to fall by 6 to 10 percent this year and the unemployment rate to jump to more than 18 percent.
In France, after collapsing by about 20% in the second quarter, GDP is expected to contract by more than 8% over the year, “the biggest recession since the creation of national accounts in 1948,” according to the National Institute of Statistics.
In the highly decentralized United States, the pandemic is drying up the public finances of many states, which are asking the federal government for help, otherwise the recovery will be sluggish and the impact on daily life long-lasting.
After Argentina and Lebanon, which have declared themselves in default, G20 experts fear that the pandemic could cause a contagion of defaults among emerging countries, unable to honour their debt repayments.
In South Africa, considered by the World Bank to be the most unequal country in the world, the pandemic has increased poverty and brought destitution to many of the approximately 4 million foreigners, most of whom are in an irregular situation.
Migrants and refugees, shop assistants or street vendors can no longer work because of the confinement, explains lawyer Alfred Djanga, a spokesman for refugee families in Johannesburg: “Without papers, they have no choice but to beg for money.
Another indirect victim of the coronavirus is the mental state of the caregivers, who are subjected to exceptional overwork and stress.
“We have all the ingredients for a major risk of post-traumatic stress,” says Xavier Noël, an expert on mental health issues at the Université libre de Bruxelles.
Those working in intensive care “have been faced with a totally unusual death rate and way of dying, in a more dehumanised context, without the presence of families to relieve them in the decision-making process,” he told AFP.
In a Europe where the figures are improving every day, pressure is mounting for a coordinated reopening of borders.
Italy is pushing for a concerted resumption of travel in Europe on 15 June, which could become the “D-Day” of tourism.
In Poland, people will no longer be obliged to wear masks from this weekend onwards, provided that a distance of two metres is left between each person.
Moscow, the main coronavirus outbreak in Russia, where strict containment has been introduced, will lift several restrictions on 1 June, authorising the reopening of certain shops and walks, subject to conditions.