UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres. Picture: SALVATORE DI NOLFI/AFP
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres. Picture: SALVATORE DI NOLFI/AFP

New York — UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned on Thursday that a global recession “is a near certainty” and current national responses to the coronavirus pandemic “will not address the global scale and complexity of the crisis.

“This is a moment that demands co-ordinated, decisive, and innovative policy action from the world's leading economies,” Guterres said  via a video conference. “We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply.”

“A global recession — perhaps of record dimensions — is a near certainty,” he said.

The world's wealthiest nations poured unprecedented aid into the traumatised global economy on Thursday as coronavirus cases ballooned in Europe, the current epicentre, even as they waned at the pandemic's point of origin, China.

So far there have been almost 219,000 infections and more than 8,900 deaths.

“Our world faces a common enemy. We are at war with a virus,” Guterres said. “I call on world leaders to come together and offer an urgent and co-ordinated response to this global crisis.”

Guterres, who was prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, called on countries to scale up health spending and to help less-prepared nations tackle the crisis, including by supporting the efforts of the World Health Organisation.

“A wealthy country must not be convinced that it has only to deal with its own citizens. It's in the interests of a wealthy country to contribute to a global response because the crisis can come from wherever, at any moment,” he said.

Guterres said he would take part in the emergency G20 nations summit planned for next week.

“My very strong appeal to the G20 is to have a particular concern with African countries and other countries in the developing world,” Guterres said.

“We must absolutely be strong in supporting them because the virus is coming to them and their health systems are extremely weak, so they need very strong support from the developed world and if that support is denied we could have catastrophic consequences,” he said, warning millions could die.

He said that when it came to the global economy the liquidity of the financial system must be guaranteed and that banks must use their resilience to support their customers.

“G20 leaders have taken steps to protect their own citizens and economies by waiving interest payments. We must apply that same logic to the most vulnerable countries in our global village and alleviate their debt burden,” he said.

In other developments:

• The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday reported 10,491 cases of coronavirus, an increase of 3,404 from its previous count, and said the death toll had risen by 53 to 150, the biggest one-day jump so far. President Donald Trump earlier in the day urged health regulators to expedite potential therapies, and  pointed to efforts on Gilead Sciences's experimental antiviral drug Remdesivir and the generic malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.

• Egypt said on Thursday it would shut all cafes, shopping malls, sports clubs and nightclubs overnight every night until March 31, strengthening measures introduced to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The government said supermarkets, pharmacies, bakeries and  corner stores were exempt from the closure, which comes at a time when schools and universities are already shut. Flights were grounded by noon local time on Thursday until the end of March.

• Brazil on Thursday announced it was closing its land borders for 15 days to nearly all its neighbours to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. A ministerial decree said it was blocking entry “by road or land” from all neighbouring countries, with the exception of Uruguay to the south. Other South American countries, such as Colombia, Chile and Argentina, have taken more drastic measures in recent days, completely closing their land, sea and air borders. Brazil has 428 cases of the coronavirus, with four deaths.

• The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Ireland rose to 557 on Thursday from 366 a day earlier, the highest daily increase so far, the health department said.

• Moroccan police have arrested at least a dozen people for spreading rumours about the coronavirus, including a woman who used her YouTube channel to say the disease did not exist, authorities said on Thursday. “Fake news is the first cause of panic among citizens,” said Prime Minister Saad Eddine El-Otmai, comparing the spread of misinformation with the contagion of the disease.

• Israel approved the use of a generic version of an HIV drug to treat patients infected with the coronavirus on Thursday, despite doubts about its effectiveness in trials. The antiviral drug Kaletra, produced by AbbVie, could be a possible treatment for COVID-19, Israel's Health Ministry said after issuing a preliminary permit.

Reuters, AFP