G20 Meets Online in Crisis Mode to Seek a Plan

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Leaders of the world’s most powerful economies will convene virtually Thursday to try to coordinate a response to the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has shuttered businesses and forced more than a quarter of the world’s population into home isolation.

The meeting of the Group of 20 nations will be chaired by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. The kingdom, which is presiding over the G20 this year, said it organized the extraordinary meeting to advance global efforts to tackle the pandemic and its economic implications as people lose their incomes amid closures, curfews and lockdowns.

Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, a city of 1.8 million and the economic heart of the nation, appears virtually empty Wednesday. (AP photo/Vincent Thian)

The meeting comes amid criticism that the world’s wealthiest countries have not taken cohesive action to combat the virus or its economic impact on people around the world.

Saudi Arabia has been criticized for rocking oil markets by ramping up production next month and slashing prices to gain market share after Russia, another major G20 oil producer, refused to extend a production cut agreement that had propped up crude prices.

The United States has called on Saudi Arabia to rethink its strategy. In a call this week with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Saudi Arabia, as a leader of the G20 and an important energy leader, “has a real opportunity to rise to the occasion and reassure global energy and financial markets.”

The global death toll from Covid-19, has climbed past 21,000 and the number of infections has surpassed 472,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of dead in the United States rose to 1,041 late Wednesday, with nearly 70,000 infections. Spain’s death toll has risen past 3,400, eclipsing that of China, where the virus was detected in December.

There was sparring this week among foreign ministers from the Group of 7 leading industrialized democracies over whether to call out China as the source of the coronavirus. The ministers refused to agree to a U.S. push to identify the coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus,” for the city in China where it appeared. As a result, the foreign ministers refused to release a group statement.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are among the heads of state who will participate in Thursday’s G20 leaders’ summit. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is taking part in the summit from her apartment in Berlin, where she is in quarantine after a doctor who gave her a pneumonia vaccination tested positive for the virus. Two tests on Merkel have come back negative for the virus, but she’ll still need more tests.

The virtual summit will include leaders from the World Health Organization, the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Labor Organization and others.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in attends G-20 virtual summit to discuss the coronavirus disease outbreak at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday. (South Korea Presidential Blue House/Yonhap via AP)

Officials from Spain, Jordan, Singapore and Switzerland will take part in the call, with chairs of regional bodies such as the African Union, the Association of South-East Asian Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The International Labor Organization says nearly 40% of the world’s population has no health insurance or access to national health services and that 55% — 4 billion people — do not benefit from any form of social protection whatsoever. It said the health crisis makes clear that not nearly enough progress has been made by governments in the years since the 2008 financial crisis to expand access to health services, sickness benefits, and unemployment protection.

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank warned the G20 countries of severe economic and social consequences for developing countries, home to a quarter of the world’s population and where most of the world’s poorest people live.

The lenders called for a suspension of debt payments from these countries and asked G20 leaders to task the World Bank and IMF with making assessments on which countries have unsustainable debt and need immediate financing.

“It is imperative at this moment to provide a global sense of relief for developing countries as well as a strong signal to financial markets,” the lenders said in a joint statement.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva has said the lender stands “ready to deploy all our $1 trillion lending capacity.” She said this week the IMF expects a recession at least as bad as during the 2008 global financial crisis or worse. Nearly 80 countries are requesting IMF help.

Ethiopia’s government told G20 finance ministers and Central Bank chiefs that Africa needs a $150 billion emergency financing package due to the impact of the virus.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged G20 leaders to adopt a “wartime” plan including a stimulus package “in the trillions of dollars” for businesses, workers and households in developing countries.

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