Great Lockdown: Worst Economic Downturn Since the Great Depression

For the first time since the Great Depression, both advanced economies and emerging market and developing economies are in recession. For this year, growth in advanced economies is projected at -6.1 percent. Emerging market and developing economies with normal growth levels well above advanced economies are also projected to have negative growth rates of -1.0 percent in 2020, and -2.2 percent if you exclude China. Income per capita is projected to shrink for over 170 countries. Both advanced and emerging market and developing economies are expected to partially recover in 2021.

This is a truly global crisis as no country is spared. Countries reliant on tourism, travel, hospitality, and entertainment for their growth are experiencing particularly large disruptions. Emerging market and developing economies face additional challenges with unprecedented reversals in capital flows as global risk appetite wanes, and currency pressures, while coping with weaker health systems, and more limited fiscal space to provide support. Moreover, several economies entered this crisis in a vulnerable state with sluggish growth and high debt levels.

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Great Lockdown

The world has changed dramatically in the three months since our last update of the World Economic Outlook by IMF in January. A rare disaster, a coronavirus pandemic, has resulted in a tragically large number of human lives being lost. As countries implement necessary quarantines and social distancing practices to contain the pandemic, the world has been put in a Great Lockdown.

The magnitude and speed of collapse in activity that has followed is unlike anything experienced in our lifetimes. This is a crisis like no other, and there is substantial uncertainty about its impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. A lot depends on the epidemiology of the virus, the effectiveness of containment measures, and the development of therapeutics and vaccines, all of which are hard to predict.

In addition, many countries now face multiple crises—a health crisis, a financial crisis, and a collapse in commodity prices, which interact in complex ways. Policymakers are providing unprecedented support to households, firms, and financial markets, and, while this is crucial for a strong recovery, there is considerable uncertainty about what the economic landscape will look like when we emerge from this lockdown.

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Under the assumption that the pandemic and required containment peaks in the second quarter for most countries in the world, and recedes in the second half of this year, in the April World Economic Outlook we project global growth in 2020 to fall to -3 percent.

This is a downgrade of 6.3 percentage points from January 2020, a major revision over a very short period. This makes the Great Lockdown the worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis.

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