The COVID-19 pandemic is inflicting high and rising human costs worldwide. Protecting lives and allowing health care systems to cope have required isolation, lockdowns, and widespread closures to slow the spread of the virus. The health crisis is therefore having a severe impact on economic activity. As a result of the pandemic, the global economy is projected to contract sharply by –3 percent in 2020, much worse than during the 2008–09 financial crisis (Table 1.1). In a baseline scenario, which assumes that the pandemic fades in the second half of 2020 and containment efforts can be gradually unwound, the global economy is projected to grow by 5.8 percent in 2021 as economic activity normalizes, helped by policy support.
There is extreme uncertainty around the global growth forecast. The economic fallout depends on factors that interact in ways that are hard to predict, including the pathway of the pandemic, the intensity and efficacy of containment efforts, the extent of supply disruptions, the repercussions of the dramatic tightening in global financial market conditions, shifts in spending patterns, behavioral changes (such as people avoiding shopping malls and public transportation), confidence effects, and volatile commodity prices. Many countries face a multi-layered crisis comprising a health shock, domestic economic disruptions, plummeting external demand, capital flow reversals, and a collapse in commodity prices. Risks of a worse outcome predominate.
Effective policies are essential to forestall worse outcomes. Necessary measures to reduce contagion and protect lives will take a short-term toll on economic activity but should also be seen as an important investment in long-term human and economic health. The immediate priority is to contain the fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak, especially by increasing health care expenditures to strengthen the capacity and resources of the health care sector while adopting measures that reduce contagion. Economic policies will also need to cushion the impact of the decline in activity on people, firms, and the financial system; reduce persistent scarring effects from the unavoidable severe slowdown; and ensure that the economic recovery can begin quickly once the pandemic fades.
Because the economic fallout reflects particularly acute shocks in specific sectors, policymakers will need to implement substantial targeted fiscal, monetary, and financial market measures to support affected households and businesses. Such actions will help maintain economic relationships throughout the shutdown and are essential to enable activity to gradually normalize once the pandemic abates and containment measures are lifted. The fiscal response in affected countries has been swift and sizable in many advanced economies (such as Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Many emerging market and developing economies (such as China, Indonesia, and South Africa) have also begun providing or announcing significant fiscal support to heavily impacted sectors and workers. Fiscal measures will need to be scaled up if the stoppages to economic activity are persistent, or the pickup in activity as restrictions are lifted is too weak. Economies facing financing constraints to combat the pandemic and its effects may require external support. Broad-based fiscal stimulus can preempt a steeper decline in confidence, lift aggregate demand, and avert an even deeper downturn. But it would most likely be more effective once the outbreak fades and people are able to move about freely.
The significant actions of large central banks in recent weeks include monetary stimulus and liquidity facilities to reduce systemic stress. These actions have supported confidence and contribute to limiting the amplification of the shock, thus ensuring that the economy is better placed to recover. The synchronized actions can magnify their impact on individual economies and will also help generate the space for emerging market and developing economies to use monetary policy to respond to domestic cyclical conditions. Supervisors should also encourage banks to renegotiate loans to distressed households and firms while maintaining a transparent assessment of credit risk.
Strong multilateral cooperation is essential to overcome the effects of the pandemic, including to help financially constrained countries facing twin health and funding shocks, and for channeling aid to countries with weak health care systems. Countries urgently need to work together to slow the spread of the virus and to develop a vaccine and therapies to counter the disease. Until such medical interventions become available, no country is safe from the pandemic (including a recurrence after the initial wave subsides) as long as transmission occurs elsewhere.text (1)