Financial markets around the world continued their relentless plunge on Friday, with European exchanges all declining more than 2 percent. Wall Street seemed poised to follow in what could well be its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.
Investors have been unnerved by the steady march of the new coronavirus around the globe, and the growing threat it poses to economic growth.
Africa has long been a source of concern, and a case in Nigeria raised fears that more infections might lurk undetected. In Europe, Wales and Northern Ireland both reported their first confirmed cases.
In Japan, already in shock over the decision to close schools for a month, officials in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, declared a state of emergency because of the pace of new infections there.
Switzerland banned all gatherings of more than 1,000 people.
The drumbeat of reports added to the sense that the outbreak may be becoming a pandemic, with health officials close to admitting it may have passed the point of no return.
More than 83,000 people in at least 53 countries have been infected, and more than 2,800 have died. New infections outside China are now outpacing those within the country, the site of the first and by far the largest outbreak.
“This virus has pandemic potential,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, warned late Thursday. “We are actually in a very delicate situation in which the outbreak can go in any direction based on how we handle it.”
Even as countries prepared for the likelihood of significant outbreaks, early missteps raised troubling questions about how nations will handle a flood of cases — even those with robust health care systems.
A whistle-blower complaint in the United States outlined how federal health care workers had interacted with quarantined Americans without proper training or safety equipment.
Leaders Italy and South Korea defended their handling outbreaks — the largest outside China — even as the number of cases in those countries continued to grow.
Panic in the stock market over the spreading coronavirus continued into a seventh day, with shares in Asia and Europe tumbling and the United States set for another steep decline.
Plunging Stock Market
The major sell-off is fueled mostly by worry that measures to contain the virus would hamper corporate profits and economic growth, and fears that the outbreak could worsen.
Factory shutdowns and quarantines in China have disrupted the global supply chain . Companies like Microsoft have warned that this will affect their sales, and Wall Street analysts have begun to factor those warnings into their expectations for profit growth this year.
Hundreds of companies have started taking measures to try to prevent the illness from afflicting their workers, including restricting travel and asking employees to work from home. All of those could curtail productivity.
SOURCE: New York Times