7 Mar 2020

Coronavirus infects more than 100,000 worldwide, causing financial havoc

5:55 pm on 7 March 2020

Twenty-one people aboard a cruise ship that was barred from docking in San Francisco have tested positive for coronavirus, US officials say, as the fast-spreading respiratory disease was reported in half a dozen new US states.

One of the biggest world cruise liners in the world, P&O's "Grand Princess" stays on dock in St Petersburg port, 24 May 2004. Grand Princess, built in Italy for US$450 million, is the biggest cruise ship which ever visited Russia.

The Grand Princess will sail from San Francisco to a non-commercial port so everyone on board can be tested for coronavirus, US health authorities says. Photo: AFP / STRINGER / INTERPRESS

Vice President Mike Pence, who is running the US response to the outbreak, said at a news conference that 19 crew members and two passengers out of 46 people tested so far on the Grand Princess ocean liner had the virus.

The vessel, with about 3400 passengers and crew, would be taken to a non-commercial port where everyone on board would be tested, he said.

The infections aboard the Grand Princess added to the more than 100,000 cases across the world, as the coronavirus outbreak reached more countries and economic damage intensified, with business districts starting to empty and stock markets tumbling.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 06: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and members of the Coronavirus Task Force hold a press briefing at the White House March 6, 2020 in Washington, DC.

US Vice President Mike Pence addresses media at the White House in Washington on the latest moves over coronavirus. Photo: AFP

President Donald Trump has signed a bill to provide $US8.3 billion ($NZ13b) to bolster the capacity to test for coronavirus and fund other measures in the United States. Cases have now been reported in half of the 50 US states. Fifteen people have died in the country, out of more than 250 cases.

In many affected countries, people were being asked to stay home from work, schools were closed, large gatherings and sports and music events were cancelled, stores were cleared of staples like toiletries and water, and face masks became a common sight.

The outbreak has killed more than 3400 people and spread across more than 90 nations, with seven countries reporting their first cases today.

Mainland China, where the outbreak started, has seen more than 3000 deaths, but the epidemic is now spreading faster elsewhere.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said every country should make containing the epidemic its top priority, pointing to Iran's national action plan to combat one of the worst outbreaks after a slow start.

Iran's death toll from the virus jumped to 124, as more than 1000 new cases were diagnosed over 24 hours.

The Vatican reported its first case, a patient in its health services, worsening the prospects of the virus having already spread further in the Italian capital, since most employees in the walled city-state live in Rome, and those who live in the Vatican frequently go in and out to the city that surrounds it.

Italy is the worst-hit European country, with a death toll as of Friday of 197.

About 3.4 percent of confirmed cases of Covid-19 have died, far above seasonal flu's fatality rate of under 1 percent, the WHO said this week.

Medical staff in protective gears distribute information sheets to Iraqi passengers returning from Iran at Najaf International Airport on March 5, 2020. -

Medical staff in protective gear distribute information sheets to Iraqi passengers returning from Iran at Najaf International Airport. Photo: AFP

Supply chains broken

Moves by some major economies, including the United States, to cut interest rates and pledge funds to fight the epidemic have done little to allay fears about the spread of the disease and the economic fallout. Supply chains have been crippled around the world, especially in China, the world's second largest economy, where the outbreak began.

"There's concern that while there has been a response from the Fed, given the nature of the problem, is this something the central bank can really help with?" said John Davies, G10 rates strategist at Standard Chartered Bank in London.

In New York, JPMorgan divided its team between central locations and a secondary site in New Jersey, while Goldman Sachs sent some traders to nearby secondary offices in Greenwich, Connecticut, and Jersey City.

Bank of America Corp is splitting its trading force from Monday and sending 100 New York-based staff to nearby Stamford, Connecticut, sources familiar with the matter said.

In London, Europe's financial capital, the Canary Wharf district was unusually quiet. S&P Global's large office stood empty after the company sent its 1200 staff home, and HSBC asked around 100 people to work from home after a worker tested positive for the illness.

France's prime minister said nurseries and schools would close for 15 days from Monday in the two areas worst hit by coronavirus infections, one north of Paris and the other in the northeastern part of the country.

The South by Southwest music and tech festival in Austin, Texas, and two music festivals in Florida were cancelled over concerns about events that bring crowds of people into close proximity. The NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament was scheduled to go ahead at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore this weekend, but without spectators.

Saudi Arabia will suspend public attendance at all sports events from tomorrow, the ministry of sports said.

The United Nations said it had cancelled some meetings in Bonn, Germany, and elsewhere, planned in the run-up to a crucial UN climate summit to be held in Scotland in November.

Markets hit

Yields on US Treasuries plunged to historic lows on fears the outbreak will slam the global economy, and MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe shed 3.10 percent. US stocks fell but ended well above their session lows.

Airline and travel stocks have been among the worst affected as people cancelled non-essential travel. Norwegian Air Shuttle, the hardest-hit stock among European carriers, lost more than a quarter of its market value on Friday and has fallen almost 70 percent since the start of February.

"If this really ramps up, we could see a lot more kitchen-sinking updates from the travel industry and airlines," said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG.

- Reuters

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