* Foreign & Business

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, D-G, WHO FABRICE COFFRINI

All countries should make containing the outbreak of COVID-19 their top priority, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, pointing to Iran ”national action plan” to combat one of the world’s worst outbreaks after a slow start.

The UN agency stressed that slowing down the epidemic allowed hospitals to prepare and save lives, while warning that there was no evidence that spread would wane during the approaching summer months in the northern hemisphere.

“We are now on the verge of reaching 1,00,000 confirmed cases,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a daily news briefing. “(The epidemic) is geographically expanding and deeply concerning.”

“We are continuing to recommend that all countries make containment their highest priority,” he added. “In a globalised world, the only option is to stand together.”

In fact, the tally of cases has already surpassed 1,00,000 — as the WHO’s figures have generally slightly lagged behind tallies others. As of Friday, more than 1,00,300 people had been infected globally, according to a Reuters tally based on statements from Health Ministries and government officials.

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s emergencies programme, said when asked about Iran’s mushrooming outbreak that it resembled China and South Korea, which quickly uncovered more cases as they began to do active disease surveillance. “It is much better that we understand the extent of the problem. So we commend the move towards more aggressive, targeted surveillance.”

Mr. Ryan, asked about the virus’ behaviour in Europe’s warm summer months, said: “We do not know yet what the behaviour of this virus will be in different climatic conditions. We have to assume that the virus will continue to have the capacity to spread.”

He added: “It is a false hope to say yes it will just disappear in summertime, like influenza virus... There is no evidence right now to suggest that that will happen.”

Decision on bank taken to maintain stability of banking sector: RBI Governor

The resolution of troubled lender Yes Bank, which was put under moratorium on Thursday, will be completed well within time, Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das indicated on Friday.

The government has placed a moratorium on Yes Bank with effect from March 5 till April 3. Deposit withdrawals have been capped at ₹50,000 during this period.

“The resolution [of Yes Bank] will be done very swiftly, it will be done very fast. The 30 days which we have given is the outer limit. You will see very swift action from the RBI,” Mr. Das said on the sidelines of an event organised by industry body Assocham. He reiterated that the Indian banking system is safe and sound. “Depositors’ interest [of Yes Bank] will be protected,” Mr. Das assured.

Stability of the system

He said the decision on Yes Bank was taken at a larger level, not only to deal with the problem in an individual entity, but also to maintain stability and resilience of the Indian financial and banking sector.

“We stand committed to maintaining stability of the financial and banking sector,” he said.

On the timing of the action on Yes Bank, Mr. Das said there was always a debate over the Reserve Bank of India either acting prematurely or taking too long to act.

“A market-led and bank-led resolution of the problem is always preferable. You have to give time to the bank management to take step and efforts. And the bank did take efforts.” he said. “When we found that we cannot wait and should not wait any longer, we decided to intervene. I think the timing is appropriate,” Mr. Das added.

RBI has superseded the board and appointed the chief financial officer and deputy managing director of State Bank of India Prashant Kumar as an administrator.

‘Will act as needed to secure economy against virus impact’

Amid the volatility of the Indian currency due to fear of COVID-19 spreading, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das said the country had enough foreign exchange reserves and assured that the central bank would take all measures needed to secure the economy against the challenges arising from the deadly epidemic.

“We will be able to respond to the challenges emerging out of the coronavirus epidemic,” Mr. Das said at an event organised by industry body Assocham.

The deadly virus that originated from China has spread to nearly 80 countries and has taken the lives of more than 3,300 people.

The rupee weakened by 54 paisa on Friday to end the day at 73.87 against the dollar as fears of the virus spreading continue to make investors nervous.

Asserting that the country had enough resources to fight the crisis with a robust level of foreign exchange reserves, Mr. Das called upon the IMF to launch non-stigmatised currency swap lines to ease liquidity pressures globally. Latest data released by RBI show the country’s foreign exchange reserves at a record high level of $481.5 billion till the week ended February 28.

Mr. Das said all central banks were resolved to work in close coordination to fight the global slowdown due to the spread of the virus. The impact on India would be limited as the economy was not significantly integrated with the global value chain. “To that extent we will be insulated,” he added.

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