Saudi calls G20 meeting to set course to 'safeguard' the global economy

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Saudi Arabia, the current chair of the G20 group, will convene a virtual meeting of leaders from the world’s largest economies next week to chart a global course forward on containing and battling the novel coronavirus.

The kingdom said that it was seeking to “put forward a coordinated set of policies to protect people and safeguard the global economy."

Leaders will not meet face-to-face given the prevailing medical advice calling for social distancing and isolation to stop the spread of coronavirus, known officially as Covid-19.

In recent days, dozens of countries and regional blocks including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the EU, have brought in travel bans to prevent cases spreading.

Saudi Arabia has 171 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with no deaths so far and six recoveries. There are 1,122 confirmed cases in GCC countries, 148 recoveries and one death. Globally there are now 198,152 cases confirmed with 7,954 deaths and 81,960 recoveries although the true number is expected to be far higher as many countries have not carried out widespread testing as advised by the World Health Organisation.

The Saudi central bank on Saturday said it had prepared a 50 billion riyal (Dh 47.7 billion) stimulus package to help small and medium-sized enterprises cope with the economic impact of the shutdowns.

The UAE too has announced a Dh 100 billion financial package to support banks and businesses to handle the crisis.

Meanwhile, leaders of the G7 group – the seven largest economies in the world – have vowed to "do whatever it takes" to prevent a financial meltdown.

However, every sector from tourism to food to aviation is affected as the global economy effectively goes into shutdown. Global markets have seen declines not witnessed in decades as investors sell off equities and search for financial safe havens.

Worshippers take photographs of the Kaaba inside Mecca's Grand Mosque a day after Saudi authorities emptied Islam's holiest site for sterilisation over fears of the new coronavirus COVID-19. AFP

An almost empty Kaaba at the Grand Mosque is seen after Saudi authority suspended umrah amid the fear of coronavirus outbreak. Reuters

A view of Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, which is almost empty of worshippers. Reuters

Kaaba at the Grand Mosque is almost empty of worshippers. Reuters

A view of Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, which is almost empty of worshippers. Reuters

The Kaaba, inside Mecca's Grand Mosque, is shown to be empty of worshippers on Thursday in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. AFP

Small groups of pilgrims walk around the Kaaba. AFP

Workers sterilize the ground in front of the Kaaba in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. AP Photo

Municipal workers are seen in empty courtyard the Kaaba. AFP

Few prayed around the Kaaba in Makkah on Thursday. AP Photo

A pilgrim wears a mask as he visits the Grand Mosque in Makkah. AP Photo

A Saudi policeman stands guard in front of the Kaaba. AP Photo

A pilgrim films pigeons outside the Grand Mosque. AP Photo

Indonesian pilgrims, who entered Mecca before visas were halted, wait their bus to leave home in Makkah. AP Photo

Far smaller crowds than usual of Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. AP Photo

The white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba is shown empty of worshippers. AFP

But central banks and finance ministries around the world have been stepping up support, looking to inject cash into markets to stabilise prices and secure jobs.

Despite the wild swings, United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has ruled out a temporary closure of stock markets, saying "Americans need to know they have access to their money".

The US and Britain led a multi-billion-dollar global fightback against economic havoc wreaked by the coronavirus as the European Union shut its borders to travellers from outside for 30 days to stem the pandemic's ferocious spread.

The sweeping measures, never before seen in peacetime, have upended society worldwide and roiled financial markets on fears of a global recession.

Battered US stocks – which President Donald considers a key metric of his success ahead of the November presidential election – closed higher after the stimulus announcement.

Mr Trump said the White House was discussing a "substantial" spending bill with Congress that would include immediate cash payments to Americans.

Officials did not give hard numbers but The Washington Post reported the amount could reach $850 billion (Dh 3.1 trillion), with a chunk destined for airlines fearing ruin.

"We're going big," Mr Trump told reporters.

British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak also unveiled an "unprecedented package" of government-backed loans worth 330 billion pounds (Dh 1.45 trillion) for businesses struggling in the sudden economic paralysis caused by mass self-quarantine.

France has pledged a 45 billion euro (Dh 181 billion) aid package as President Emmanuel Macron likened the outbreak to war and ordered almost the entire population to stay at home for at least two weeks.

Updated: March 18, 2020 12:13 PM

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