Covid-19 wrap | Coronavirus deaths near 400 000, pressure piles on economies and industries

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis.

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Virus deaths approach 400 000 as oil producers extend output cuts

The global death toll from the coronavirus neared 400 000 on Sunday with fatalities accelerating in Latin America, as oil-producing countries agreed to extend output cuts to offset a collapse in prices caused by the pandemic.

Brazil now has the world's third-highest death toll from the virus, but President Jair Bolsonaro has threatened to leave the World Health Organisation (WHO) over "ideological bias", following the example of the United States.

He is among those arguing that the economic damage lockdowns are causing is worse than the virus itself - and the oil industry has been hit particularly hard.

OPEC agreed on Saturday to extend an April deal to cut production through July, aiming to foster a recovery in oil prices after they were pummelled by slumps in demand caused by virus restrictions.

Governments are also increasingly focused on repairing the economic damage, and even hard-hit European countries are now opening their borders and allowing people to return to work.

But gloomy data from Asia's two largest economies highlighted the long road to recovery.

China reported a plunge in foreign trade on the back of subdued consumer demand and weakness in key overseas markets.

Analysts say a deeper downturn in exports is looming for the world's manufacturing powerhouse, where the virus first emerged late last year.

Factories in India are also struggling to restart because of labour shortages, as the country slowly emerges from a strict nationwide lockdown that sent millions of migrant labourers back to their far-flung home villages.

- AFP


China imports plunge, exports fall on virus hit to global growth

China's exports and imports fell in May as the economic slowdown abroad started to take its toll, and after a surprise jump driven by increased demand for anti-epidemic supplies, official data showed Sunday.

With consumer demand muted and key overseas markets suffering downturns, imports saw their sharpest on-year fall in over four years, even as the country worked to restart its economy after bringing activity to a standstill to curb the coronavirus.

Exports from the manufacturing powerhouse fell 3.3% on-year last month, better than the 6.5% slide expected by a Bloomberg poll of analysts.

But the return to negative territory came after a surprise 3.5% jump in April, which was partly due to medical exports.

Analysts have warned of signs that a larger downturn awaits.

Customs data released on Sunday also showed a larger than expected drop in imports on-year, which were down by 16.7% and at a four-year low.

Part of the plunge in the value of imports could be explained by falling commodity prices worldwide, said Rajiv Biswas of IHS Markit.

Iris Pang, ING chief economist for Greater China, told AFP another reason was likely a drop in parts bought for re-exports - imported goods that are shipped out after further processing - due to the uncertainty of global demand.

- AFP


Sweden didn't lock down, but economy to plunge anyway

Unlike most countries, Sweden never locked down during the coronavirus pandemic, largely keeping businesses operating, but the economy appears to be taking a hard hit nonetheless.

Under the Scandinavian country's controversial approach to the virus, cafes, bars, restaurants and most businesses remained open, as did schools for under-16s, with people urged to follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

Whatever hope there may have been that this policy would soften the economic blow now seems dashed.

"As in most of the world, there will be a record decline for the Swedish economy in Q2," SEB bank economist Olle Holmgren said.

A rebound was likely in the latter part of the year, but "we expect it to take a long time before the situation normalises," he said.

To be fair, Swedish officials insist their strategy was always aimed at public health, and never specifically at saving the economy.

The idea was to make sure hospitals could keep pace with the outbreak and protect the elderly and at-risk groups.

Sweden has succeeded at the former, but admitted failure at the latter, with more than three-quarters of virus deaths occurring among nursing home residents and those receiving care at home.

"When we have decided what measures to take to stop the virus from spreading, we have not had any economic considerations. We have followed the advice of our (public health) experts on this issue," Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson told reporters in late May.

- AFP


Virus crisis piles pressure on African media

Collapsing revenues, rising layoffs: the coronavirus crisis is battering media outlets across Africa that were already struggling for cash and often facing pressure from hostile authorities.

The news of cutbacks was sudden and painful for journalists at two of Nigeria's most popular independent newspapers when bosses from The Punch and Vanguard made their announcements last month.

"It was a rude shock for me because I didn't do anything wrong to warrant such treatment," one Punch veteran told AFP, asking not to be named as he was still owed a "token" payoff.

The redundancies were just the latest to hit Nigeria's press - one of the most vibrant on the continent - as the economic fallout from the pandemic has sent sales and advertising income plunging.

"What is happening in Nigeria is not peculiar to us. The whole world is feeling the impact," said Qasim Akinreti, the chair of the Lagos Union of Journalists.

"For us in the Nigerian media, the story is the same - we have lost hundreds of jobs in the past four months."

In Kenya some media houses slashed wages by up to half, in Uganda a leading weekly halted printing, and in Namibia hours have been reduced and redundancy schemes fast-tracked.

The speed and severity of the current crunch has sparked calls for government bailouts - with private papers in Cameroon even holding a "dead press" day to denounce a lack of action.

Authorities in some countries have heeded the pleas for help.

Kenya's national regulator on Friday unveiled what it called a "historic" fund worth just under $1 million to help some 150 broadcasters weather the storm.

"This challenge of Covid-19 has squeezed life from television and radio stations," said David Omwoyo, the head of the Media Council of Kenya.

Officials from Nigeria's journalist union said it had appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to provide emergency aid to distressed media.

- AFP

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