Coronavirus outbreak starts to look more like a worldwide economic crisis

NEW YORK (AP) — The coronavirus outbreak began to look more like a worldwide economic crisis Friday as anxiety about the infection emptied shops and amusement parks, canceled events, cut trade and travel and dragged already slumping financial markets even lower.

More employers told their workers to stay home, and officials locked down neighborhoods and closed schools. The wide-ranging efforts to halt the spread of the illness threatened jobs, paychecks and profits.

“This is a case where in economic terms the cure is almost worse than the disease,” said Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “When you quarantine cities … you lose economic activity that you’re not going to get back.”

The list of countries touched by the illness climbed to nearly 60 as Mexico, Belarus, Lithuania, New Zealand, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Iceland and the Netherlands reported their first cases. More than 83,000 people worldwide have contracted the illness, with deaths topping 2,800.

China, where the outbreak began in December, has seen a slowdown in new infections and this morning reported 427 new cases over the past 24 hours along with 47 additional deaths. The city at the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan, accounted for the bulk of both.

New cases in mainland China have held steady at under 500 for past four days, with almost all of them in Wuhan and its surrounding Hubei province.

With the number of discharged patients now greatly exceeding those of new arrivals, Wuhan now has more than 5,000 spare beds in 16 temporary treatment centers, Ma Xiaowei, director of the National Health Commission, told a news conference in Wuhan on Friday.

The head of the World Health Organization on Friday announced that the risk of the virus spreading worldwide was “very high,” citing the “continued increase in the number of cases and the number of affected countries.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all governments to “do everything possible to contain the disease.”

“We know containment is possible, but the window of opportunity is narrowing,” the U.N. chief told reporters in New York.

The economic ripples have already reached around the globe.

Stock markets around the world plunged again Friday. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones index took yet another hit, closing down nearly 360 points. The index has dropped more than 14 percent from a recent high, making this the market’s worst week since 2008, during the global financial crisis.

The effects were just as evident in the hush that settled in over places where throngs of people ordinarily work and play and buy and sell.

“There’s almost no one coming here,” said Kim Yun-ok, who sells doughnuts and seaweed rolls at Seoul’s Gwangjang Market, where crowds were thin as South Korea counted 571 new cases — more than in China, where the virus emerged. “I am just hoping that the outbreak will come under control soon.”

By Kerry Minor

Leave a Reply