Coronavirus fears prompt IMF and World Bank to hold ‘virtual’ spring meetings

Washington-based organisations avoiding large-scale gatherings at annual meeting for safety reasons

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 10, 2017 a logo for the 2017 Annual Meetings is seen inside the International Monetary Fund (IMF) headquarters in Washington, DC. The spring gathering of finance ministers and central bankers held in Washington in April will be shifted to a "virtual format" due to the coronavirus epidemic, the IMF and World Bank said March 3, 2020. The twice-yearly meetings of the development lending institutions attract thousands of officials and private sector participants from 180 member countries -- just the kind of gathering health authorities say should be avoided.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will adopt a "virtual format" for their upcoming spring meetings in April, instead of convening in Washington, due to concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Washington-based organisations will release their analyses – including the World Economic Outlook, Global Financial Stability Report and Fiscal Monitor – on time through virtual press conferences, they said in a joint statement late on Tuesday.

"Given growing health concerns related to the virus, the management of the IMF and World Bank Group and their executive boards have agreed to implement a joint plan to adapt the 2020 IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings to a virtual format," Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank president David Malpass said. "Our goal is to serve our membership effectively while ensuring the health and safety of Spring Meetings participants and staff."
"We remain fully committed to maintaining a productive dialogue with our stakeholders and will leverage our IT-related and virtual connection capabilities to the fullest to hold our essential policy consultations with the membership," they said.

The spring meetings, slated this year for April 17 to 19, typically gather thousands of government officials from member countries, journalists, and business people at the organisations' headquarters located a few blocks from the White House. This is not the first time the IMF and World Bank are taking such measures. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the organisations postponed and moved policy meetings to another location.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus has led to more than 3,100 deaths and 92,000 infections worldwide. People are now infected in more than 70 countries and territories outside China, where the virus first appeared. However, the World Health Organisation has yet to declare the outbreak a global pandemic.

In February, Ms Georgieva said the coronavirus outbreak would likely shave off 0.1 percentage point from global economic growth. The virus could also lower China's economic growth to 5.6 per cent this year, a 0.4 percentage point lower than the previous IMF estimate made in January, Ms Georgieva said. The world's second-biggest economy grew 6.1 per cent last year, its slowest pace in nearly 30 years.

Earlier this week the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said world economy's growth rate could fall to the slowest pace since 2009, as the virus continues to spread. The organisation projects a 2.4 per cent economic expansion in 2020, down from 2.9 per cent estimates in November. A longer span of the outbreak could halve growth to 1.5 per cent and force a number countries into recession, according to the organisation.

Echoing IMF and World Bank's concerns, Opec said it will not allow journalists into the secretariat's headquarters in Vienna as a precautionary measure for its ministerial meeting this week.

The group cited the prospect of a "public health risk" from convening vast numbers of people in one place.