Coronavirus: Global economic fallout mounts and competition for PPE intensifies

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The coronavirus outbreak has left 10 million Americans unemployed in just two weeks.

The news of a further 6.6 million new unemployment claims on top of the 3.3 million announced in the US last week came as the competition for scarce ventilators, masks and other protective gear grew more desperate and deaths mounted with alarming speed in Italy, Spain and New York.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency in the US asked the Pentagon for 100,000 body bags because of the possibility funeral homes will be overwhelmed, the military said.

Factory workers sew face masks
Competition for protective equipment such as face masks is growing increasingly fierce (AP/Sue Ogrocki)

The mounting economic fallout almost certainly signals the onset of a global recession, with job losses that are likely to dwarf those of the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

Elsewhere around the world, at least a million people in Europe are estimated to have lost their jobs over the same period. Spain alone has added over 300,000 to its unemployment rolls in March.

Altogether, about a million people around the world have contracted coronavirus and over 50,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. Over 200,000 have recovered.

Spain reported a record one-day number of deaths, 950, bringing its overall toll to about 10,000, despite signs that the infection rate is slowing.

A temporary field hospital in Madrid
A temporary field hospital in Madrid (AP/Manu Fernandez)

The competition for ventilators, masks and other vital supplies is cutthroat.

In New York, governor Andrew Cuomo warned that the state is quickly running out of breathing machines. He said: “At the current burn rate, we have enough ventilators for six days.”

He also said the state will pay a premium to manufacturers – and cover the cost of converting their factories too – to produce gowns and other badly needed protective gear.

Mr Cuomo said: “But we need this like now. Not talking about two months, three months, four months. We need these materials now.”

The governor has complained that the 50 US states are competing against each other for protective gear and breathing machines, or are being outbid by the federal government, in a competition he likened to being on eBay.

In France, a top health official in the country’s hard-hit eastern region said American officials swooped in at a Chinese airport to spirit away a planeload of masks that France had ordered.

Nine leading European university hospitals warned they will run out of essential medicines for Covid-19 patients in intensive care in less than two weeks.

In Japan, where masks are a household staple, the government planned to post two gauze masks each to the country’s 50 million households.

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