WASHINGTON: The World Bank on Thursday (Apr 2) said it had approved an initial US$1.9 billion in emergency funds for coronavirus response operations in 25 developing countries, with more than half the aid earmarked to help fight the fast-spreading disease in India.

Action on projects in scores of emerging market countries is expected in the coming days and weeks, the World Bank said.

READ: Commentary: How well has India been handling the COVID-19 pandemic?

In addition, the bank said it was working to redeploy resources in existing World Bank financed projects worth up to US$1.7 billion. The bank has said it is prepared to spend up to US$160 billion over the next 15 months to combat the pandemic.

World Bank Group President David Malpass said the institutional lender was moving quickly to strengthen the ability of developing countries to respond to the virus, and shorten the time to economic and social recovery.

“The poorest and most vulnerable countries will likely be hit the hardest,” he said in a statement.

Police personnel stand guard as they close a street in Amritsar, India, during a nationwide lockdown against the coronavirus. NARINDER NANU/AFP

Malpass told reporters he was confident the bank and International Monetary Fund could make progress on their joint push for official bilateral creditors to allow the poorest countries to suspend debt service payments for 14 months beginning May 1.

Malpass said he was confident nearly all the Group of 20 major economies would support such debt relief.

“The reason that we’re going in this direction is because we think it’s doable … and it can be done quickly by the official bilateral creditors,” Malpass said.

He said Saudi Arabia and France were leading the effort within the G20 to achieve “common and equitable debt relief,” adding, “It works best if everyone participates.”

He said he and IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva were inviting endorsement of their proposal during the institution’s virtual Spring Meetings in mid-April.

India, the third largest economy in Asia, will receive the largest share of the initial funding – US$1 billion to support better screening for the virus, contact tracing and laboratory diagnostics; pay for personal protective equipment; and set up new isolation wards for those infected, the bank said.

The funds approved on Thursday also included US$200 million for Pakistan, US$129 million for Sri Lanka; US$100 million for Afghanistan and US$82.6 million for Ethiopia, the bank said.

Argentina, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya and Yemen, among others, will receive smaller amounts, the bank added.

It said it was also responding to widespread supply chain disruptions by helping countries obtain urgently needed medical supplies from suppliers in China and elsewhere.

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