By Noreen Jazul, Roy Mabasa, and AFP
The United States government is providing US$37 million to the Philippines and 24 other “high-priority countries” affected by coronavirus disease (COVID-19) or at high risk of its spread, while IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva calls for all-out offensive to counteract epidemic.
US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green said the allocation from the agency’s Emergency Reserve Fund for Contagious Infectious Diseases will be provided to the World Health Organization (WHO) and other multilateral institutions and programs under USAID’s implementing partners.
These funds, he said, are part of Washington’s pledge of up to $100 million which was announced last month by the US Department of State.
At the same time, Green called on other donors to contribute to the effort of combatting COVID-19 “because an infectious-disease threat anywhere can be a threat everywhere.”
Aside from the Philippines, the other high priority countries who will benefit from the funding are the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; the Republics of Angola, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, South Africa, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe; the People’s Republic of Bangladesh; Burma; the Kingdom of Cambodia; the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; the Kyrgyz Republic; the Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Mongolia; the Federal Republic of Nepal; the Federal Republic of Nigeria; the Islamic Republic of Pakistan; the Kingdom of Thailand; and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
The USAID official explained that funds intended for the WHO, will help the governments of currently affected or at-risk developing countries prepare their laboratories for large-scale testing for COVID-19, implement a public-health emergency plan for points of entry, activate case-finding and event-based surveillance for influenza-like illnesses, train and equip rapid-response teams, investigate cases and trace the contacts of infected persons, and adapt training materials for health workers on COVID-19.
On the other hand, funds that are going through USAID partners and programs will support six broad areas of work: laboratory-strengthening; surveillance for, and rapid response to, infectious diseases; risk-communications and engagement with communities; public-health screening at points of entry; the prevention and control of infections in health facilities; and the management of cases of COVID-19.
In view of the mounting needs from affected countries for donations of personal protective equipment (PPE), Green said USAID has reviewed and responded to such requests for the distribution of goggles, gowns, face shields/masks, and gloves in close coordination with the WHO and the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Global response needed
Meanwhile, Georgieva on Wednesday called for an all-out, “no regrets” response to the new coronavirus epidemic which poses a “serious threat” to the global economy.
“At a time of uncertainty… it is better to do more than to do not enough,” she said, warning that the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak will slow growth in the world economy to below the 2.9 percent posted last year.
The epidemic “is no longer a regional issue, it is a global problem calling for global response,” Georgieva told reporters, warning that the financial need could top $1 billion.
The virus has shuttered factories, disrupted travel, infected nearly 95,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,200, mainly in China, while some countries are struggling to test for and contain the spread of the illness.
That has spurred global policymakers to come out in force to mitigate the damage, including an emergency, half-point cut in interest rates by the Federal Reserve on Tuesday, followed by a similar cut by the Bank of Canada on Wednesday.
While some economists argue lower interest rates will do little to help address interruptions in supply chains, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said it should provide a boost to confidence.
And while Georgieva said the global financial system is in good shape now after being fortified in the wake of the 2008 crisis, “We do need to have measures that are bringing a sense of confidence,” and prevent credit from freezing up.
The epidemic’s impact on confidence and demand, as well as the steps imposed to contain it, are impacting economic activity, with the result that “global growth in 2020 will dip below last year’s levels,” she said.
The IMF in January forecast growth this year of 3.3 percent, which means at least a half point will be lost to the virus.
But “how far it will fall and how long the impact will be is still difficult to predict,” she said.
Georgieva said the fund’s analysis had assumed the virus would be largely confined to China, which would have led to a sharp but short economic slowdown, followed by a quick recovery.
“Unfortunately over the last week we’ve seen a shift to a more adverse scenario for the global economy,” due to the “sheer geographic spread of the epidemic around the world,” impacting a third of the IMF’s 189 member countries.
The fund is due to release its updated forecasts in mid-April.
Georgieva and World Bank President David Malpass spoke to reporters after a conference call of finance officials from member nations, who directed the IMF “to use all its available financing instruments to help member countries in need.”
“We are determined to provide the necessary support to mitigate the impact, especially on the most vulnerable people and countries,” the statement from governing body the IMFC said.
It was the first time the group had ever held a meeting by teleconference, the IMF said.
Georgieva said the Washington-based development lender has $1 trillion in overall financing capacity, including $50 billion available without a formal IMF program, and $10 billion in no-interest funds for the poorest countries.
These are existing aid facilities that can be deployed quickly to deal with emergency situations, such as natural disasters.
Georgieva said the fund also has a grant program used for the 2014 Ebola outbreak that relies on government donations and is underfunded with only $200 million against a need that could reach $1 billion.
“I called on member countries to help ensure that this facility is fully re-charged and ready for the current crisis,” she said.
The World Bank on Tuesday announced it had $12 billion available to help countries respond to the coronavirus threat, especially the poorest nations that are least equipped.
Malpass told reporters “the speed and breadth of the response is crucial to its effectiveness.”
As the US death toll rose to 11, Congress reached a deal on $8 billion in emergency spending to combat both the health and economic consequences of the disease.
The Eurogroup was still mulling an exceptional spending package as cases in Europe grew and Italy shuttered schools, but pledged to use “all appropriate tools to achieve strong, sustainable growth,” including fiscal measures.