US President Donald Trump announced partial curbs on immigration Tuesday to “protect American workers” amid the economic carnage of the coronavirus pandemic.
As Trump announced a 60-day pause in the issuing of “green cards” to people seeking permanent residency in the US, the United Nations warned the virus could trigger famine in already vulnerable countries.
The bleak warning came as deaths from the virus surpassed 177,000 worldwide, with governments anxiously trying to chart a path out of the unprecedented global health and economic emergency.
On the medical front, a US study of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, widely touted as a potential cure for Covid-19, showed no benefit against the disease over standard care – and was in fact associated with more deaths.
As world leaders worry about triggering another wave of infections, debates are raging over when and how to relax lockdowns imposed to prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus.
Governments are also concerned about the mounting economic costs, and Trump announced he would sign an executive order on Wednesday restricting immigration to the United States, where some 22 million people have lost their jobs.
Trump, who campaigned for president on a platform of cracking down on illegal immigration, said there would be a 60-day “pause” in issuing green cards, but temporary workers such as seasonal farm laborers would not be affected.
“In order to protect American workers, I will be issuing a temporary suspension of immigration into the United States,” he said.
“It will help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens,” Trump said at a daily White House briefing. “It would be wrong and unjust for Americans to be replaced with immigrant labor flown in from abroad.”
Trump said “additional immigration-related measures” could be taken later to protect workers in the United States, the hardest-hit country with nearly 45,000 people dead and more than 800,000 infected.
The UN’s World Food Program warned, meanwhile, that the economic impact of the pandemic could lead to a “humanitarian catastrophe,” with the number of people suffering from acute hunger projected to nearly double to 265 million this year.
“We are on the brink of a hunger pandemic,” WFP director David Beasley told the UN Security Council in a video conference.
“Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children, face being pushed to the brink of starvation, with the specter of famine a very real and dangerous possibility.”
The worst-case scenario could see famine in some three dozen countries, Beasley said.
As the WFP warned of potential famine, Group of 20 agriculture ministers pledged to ensure “sufficient” global food supplies for “the poorest, the most vulnerable, and displaced people.”
Freezes on whole sectors of commerce are already playing out dramatically on oil markets, where prices have crashed due to the drop-off in energy demand and a supply glut.
In hard-hit Europe, some countries are cautiously creeping out from confinement, though large gatherings appear to be out of the question for the foreseeable future.
While Germany is allowing small shops to reopen, authorities canceled Oktoberfest, a beloved beer-swilling festival in southern Bavaria, for the first time since World War II.
Spain announced it was scrapping its annual bull-running festival in Pamplona.
In one week, though, children in Spain, who have been house-bound for more than a month under a tight lockdown, will be allowed to accompany parents on food shopping and other sanctioned outings.
‘Very, very few customers’
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has also promised to soon unveil a plan to start reopening the hard-hit country.
But in a sign of what lies ahead, the gradual awakening of Wuhan – the Chinese city where the virus first emerged – remains tinged with fear about fresh outbreaks of the disease.
The industrial city was released from quarantine two weeks ago, but many restaurants, for instance, have not reopened or are still only able to offer outdoor seating and takeout.
“We have very, very few customers,” said Han, the 27-year-old owner of a soy drink stall. “Business is just not as good as before.”
Singapore, meanwhile, has become a sober example of how infections may ebb and flow, with the financial hub extending lockdown measures Tuesday as it battles a second wave of contagion.
Elsewhere, there is fear over how the most vulnerable will survive lockdowns that breed their own dangers.
In many parts of the world, including Latin America, weeks of confinement have seen a surge in calls to helplines for victims of domestic abuse.
Eighteen women have been killed by their partner or ex-partners during the first 20 days of Argentina’s mandatory quarantine.
Appeals to helplines have also shot up nearly 40%.
“Every day, a woman is abused, raped or beaten at home by her partner or her ex,” said Ada Rico, from the NGO La Casa del Encuentro.
Misery on the continent will be compounded by a looming economic recession, which a UN body says will spike poverty rates in the worst contraction in a century.
Financial markets continued on a roller-coaster ride after the price of a US oil benchmark sank below zero for the first time on Monday, sending world equities spiraling.
A day after its historic slide into negative territory amid a supply glut, US oil futures finished in positive territory.
But the market remained under heavy pressure due to the oversupply as shutdowns constrain global growth.
Wall Street tumbled for a second straight session Tuesday as worries about chaos in the oil market overshadowed progress in Washington on additional relief for small businesses.
Stocks did not get a boost from the deal between US lawmakers and the White House on a US$480 billion emergency package that replenishes a depleted program to help small businesses devastated by the crisis.
The aviation sector has been hammered particularly hard by the global economic pause, and cash-strapped Virgin Australia announced it had entered voluntary administration – the largest airline so far to collapse.