The World Bank unveiled a US$12 billion aid package on Tuesday that will provide fast-track funds to help countries combat the coronavirus outbreak.
“The goal is to provide fast, effective action that responds to country needs,” World Bank President David Malpass told reporters.
He said it is critical to “recognise the extra burden on poor countries” least equipped in the struggle to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The funds, some of which are targeted to the world’s poorest nations, can be used for medical equipment or health services and will include expertise and policy advice, the bank said in a statement.
The virus that erupted in central China in December has killed more than 3,000 worldwide and infected over 90,000 people.
Malpass said the money – US$8 billion of which is new – will go to countries that request help. The bank has been in contact with many member nations, but he did not specify which are likely to be the first to receive aid.
“The point is to move fast. Speed is needed to save lives,” he said in a conference call.
“We want to make the best use of the World Bank’s extensive resources and global expertise and the historical knowledge of crises,” he said, citing similar crisis funding to combat the Ebola and Zika outbreaks in recent years.
Meanwhile, citing concerns about the fast spread of the coronavirus, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday said they will adopt a “virtual format” for their Spring Meetings instead of convening in person in Washington.
The institutions’ Spring Meetings, scheduled this year for April 17-19, usually bring some 10,000 government officials, businesspeople, civil society representatives and journalists from across the globe to a tightly packed, two-block area of downtown Washington that houses their headquarters.
The institutions began considering the move, first reported by Reuters last week, as the disease continued to spread rapidly around the world.
The coronavirus outbreak is plunging the world economy into its worst downturn since the global financial crisis more than 10 years ago, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned on Monday.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank President David Malpass said in a joint statement that their goal was to serve their membership effectively while ensuring the health and safety of participants and staff.
They said the institutions would leverage IT-related and virtual connection capabilities to hold essential policy consultations, while continuing to share IMF and World Bank analyses.
“With this adapted format, we are confident that our member countries will be able to effectively engage on pressing global economic issues at these Spring Meetings,” they said.
An IMF official said that one possible exception to the virtual meetings shift is that the 24-member International Monetary and Financial Committee – the Fund’s steering committee – may still meet face to face.
Details for the meeting are still being worked out, the official said. The equivalent panel at the World Bank, the Development Committee, is planning to meet in a virtual format, a World Bank spokesman said.
The rapid spread of the virus raised concerns inside the IMF and the World Bank that the close interactions among people from their 189 member countries at the Spring Meetings could inadvertently contribute to the problem.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the IMF and World Bank cancelled their annual meetings scheduled for later that month in the US capital. The meetings were reconvened in November 2001 in Ottawa, Canada.
The by-laws of both institutions state that their annual meetings of boards of governors, normally held in the fall, must be held in person.