Brussels faces ‘economic pandemic’ as coronavirus risks ‘plunging Europe into turmoil’

“Behind the coronavirus pandemic lies an economic pandemic,” Mr Woerth, a member of the French parliament, told the news channel BFMTV. “An economic pandemic could emerge and we must do everything in our power to avoid it because, if it does happen, France – and Europe – will be plunged into turmoil,” he warned.

The flu-like virus, which first emerged in central China in December, has infected more than 142,000 people globally and killed over 5,000.  

The World Health Organisation called the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday, issuing a grim warning that the global spread and severity of the infection was due to “alarming levels of inaction”.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged the international community to redouble efforts to contain the epidemic, saying aggressive measures could still play a big role to curb it.

More than 5,000 people have died and over 134,000 have been sickened globally, according to AFP’s latest tally.

The majority of cases have been in China where the outbreak first emerged in December, but as the number of new infections has dwindled in the country, hotspots have emerged elsewhere.

Signs of a widening European crisis emerged this week, with Ireland, Albania, Belgium, Sweden, Scotland and Bulgaria registering their first deaths, while the death toll in Italy shot past 1,200.

Commenting on the economic impact of the crisis, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday evening that the package of emergency measures unveiled by the European Central Bank (ECB) would not be enough to cushion the blow.

M Macron said in a televised address from the Elysée palace: “We, Europeans, will not allow a financial and economic crisis to spread… European governments must take decisions on supporting activity, and relaunching it, whatever it costs.

“Will [the ECB’s measures] be enough? I don’t think so.” 

The ECB approved fresh stimulus measures to help cope with the “major shock” of coronavirus but left interest rates on hold, dismaying markets, and said eurozone finance ministers must lead the pandemic response by taking “decisive and determined action”.

Critics have also slammed the bloc’s failure to provide a coherent public health response to the spread of the disease, namely in Italy.

“The European Union has failed to do its work,” French MEP Yannick Jadot said on Thursday when asked whether enough had been done to help Italy, the EU’s hardest-hit country whose healthcare system has been weakened by significant cuts in funding.

“[Italy’s European partners] are guilty of culpable selfishness,” he told France Info radio, in reference to the fact that China – and not another EU state – had been the first to respond to Rome’s plea for medical supplies and support.  

“We should have helped Italy… We know now that life comes at a price,” he added.

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