World Bank Group President David Malpass on Friday said the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic was expected to cause a “major global recession” that would likely hit the poorest and most vulnerable countries the hardest.

“We intend to respond forcefully and massively with support programs, especially for poor countries,” Malpass said in a posting on the LinkedIn networking site, adding that he planned to speak soon with the leaders of Ethiopia, Kenya and other countries.

On Thursday the World Bank said it had approved an initial $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.

In addition, the bank said it was working to redeploy resources in existing World Bank financed projects worth up to $1.7 billion.

The bank has said it is prepared to spend up to $160 billion over the next 15 months to combat the pandemic.