Trump dig at China disturbs markets as India extends lockdown

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by Sebastian Smith, with AFP bureaus

US President Donald Trump’s new threat of tariffs against China over the coronavirus sent a shudder through global markets on Friday, as India warned the world’s biggest lockdown would continue for two more weeks.

European countries and some parts of the United States have begun to ease the social and economic restrictions that have shut in half the world, joining those Asians that feel they have already turned a corner.

But giant India, where stringent restrictions on 1.3 billion people have been credited with keeping virus cases low at the cost of hardship for millions, said it would renew the lockdown in many regions for two more weeks.

The home ministry said there would be “considerable relaxations” in some areas but that at-risk zones will have intensified contact tracing, house-to-house surveillance, and no movement in or out except for medical emergencies and the supply of essential goods and services.

In New York, Wall Street opened sharply down after Trump alleged on Thursday that the virus might have come from a Chinese lab and raised the prospect of more US trade tariffs.

The markets have also been following the global economic impact of the epidemic, and tech giants Apple and Amazon became the latest firms to announce worrying results as corporations around the world shed staff and slash profit forecasts.

Trump’s unproven claim — which followed stern Chinese denials — appeared at odds with statements by his intelligence chief and top diplomat Mike Pompeo, who said: “We don’t know precisely where it began.”

His taunt will nevertheless stir tensions even as the World Health Organization (WHO) asked to be allowed to take part in a Chinese investigation into the “animal origins” of the pandemic.

In more positive signs, South Africa and Austria were allowing some businesses to reopen from Friday, and hard-hit Spain’s latest daily death toll confirmed that the pandemic there was slowing.

Nevertheless, Spain’s Finance Minister Nadia Calvino said its economy was projected to shrink by 9.2 percent in 2020 — after growing by two percent last year.

While death rates are slowing in most of Europe, the global toll from the pandemic has now topped 233,000, according to an AFP tally of official sources.

More than 3.2 million infections have been recorded globally, likely a gross underestimation with many countries only testing the most serious cases. (AFP)

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