12 Mar 2020

Day of drama: Trump bans travel, stocks slide worldwide and Tom Hanks has Covid-19

7:31 pm on 12 March 2020

In an extraordinary day, the WHO has declared Covid-19 a pandemic, the US is halting all travel from Europe, the Pacific has its first case, and Hollywood star Tom Hanks has contracted the virus in Australia.

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Clockwise from top left: Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, Steven Adams, Scott Morrison, Donald Trump, Ashley Bloomfield and Maina Sage. Photo: AFP / RNZ

Global shares crumbled after President Donald Trump's announcement of the 30-day travel ban. US S&P500 futures dropped more than 3 percent, a day after the S&P 500 lost 4.89 percent, putting the index in bear market territory, defined as a 20 percent fall from a recent top.

The coronavirus has now infected more than 121,000 people in 118 countries while over 4300 people have died, according to a Reuters tally. However, for the fifth straight day, New Zealand had no new cases and the tally remains at five with two probable.

In Australia, the federal government announced a $A17.6b ($NZ18.2b) economic stimulus package in a bid to keep people in jobs as the economy takes a hit from the spread of coronavirus.

The Pacific's first case of Covid-19 coronavirus was confirmed in French Polynesia. The woman is a member of the French National Assembly.

The NBA suspended its basketball season after a match involving New Zealander Steven Adams' Oklahoma City Thunder side was called off while the Thunder players and the Utah Jazz were preparing for tip-off.

Shortly afterwards, it was announced that a Utah player had tested positive for coronavirus.

United States' travel ban

President Donald Trump ordered travel from Europe to the United States restricted for 30 days, responding to mounting pressure to take action against a rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak disrupting nearly all corners of US daily life.

Trump, whose administration has come under sharp criticism for its response to a public health crisis that he has previously downplayed, also announced several steps aimed at blunting economic fallout posed by coronavirus.

The travel order, which starts at midnight on Friday (US time), does not apply to Britain, or to Americans undergoing "appropriate screenings," Trump said. It affects 26 European countries.

"We are marshalling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people," Trump said in a prime-time televised address from the Oval Office. "This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history."

Soon after, Democrats in the US House of Representatives unveiled a broad package of proposals to help Americans affected by the coronavirus outbreak, including paid sick leave, family leave and medical leave.

Trump stopped short of declaring a national emergency as the number of coronavirus infections continued to mount.

After triggering confusion by suggesting that trade and cargo from Europe would also be suspended, Trump clarified that trade will not be affected by the travel restriction.

"The restriction stops people not goods," he said in a tweet moments after his speech.

Americans should reconsider foreign travel, the State Department said.

"The Department of State advises US citizens to reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of Covid-19," it said in a statement.

Asian, US, NZ stocks slide

Asian stocks traded sharply lower after Trump's travel announcement.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 fell by more than 5 percent in morning trade, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong lost 3 percent, and China's Shanghai Composite was 1 percent lower.

It followed steep losses on Wall Street, with the Dow Jones plunging by almost 1500 points, or 5.8 percent. The Dow is now more than 20 percent below its recent high, a threshold that often accompanies a recession.

The NZX Top 50 index closed down 5 percent, by 540 points to 10,333 in line with other major markets in the region.

Australia's ASX 200 market is down about 5 and a half percent late this afternoon.

Reports that Trump is actively trying to fire the chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, has further upset the markets.

Despite the turmoil, the New Zealand dollar is holding steady.

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Donald Trump and Jerome Powell Photo: AFP

Australia injects billions into economy

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the $A17.6b ($NZ18.2b) package announced today would provide an immediate stimulus to the economy amid fears Australia could slip into a recession.

The package includes tax relief for small businesses, one-off cash payments for welfare recipients and money to help keep apprentices in work.

More than six million welfare recipients, including pensioners, carers, veterans, families, young people and jobseekers will get a one-off cash payment of $750 from 31 March.

Morrison said casual workers who contracted Covid-19, or had to isolate themselves, would be eligible for a Newstart welfare payment while out of work.

Australia's incoming Prime Minister Scott Morrison (R) and deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, left, wants Australians to spend money over the next three months, helped in part by a support package he has unveiled with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: AFP

Hollywood star and wife test positive

Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, have both tested positive for coronavirus in Australia, the actor said on Twitter.

Hanks said that he and Wilson, who are both 63, were tested in Australia, where he is working on a film, after they felt tired and achy with slight fevers.

"To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for the coronavirus and were found to be positive," Hanks said in the tweet.

The film star said that he and Wilson would be "tested, observed and isolated" for as long as required.

The couple are the first major US celebrities known to have contracted Covid-19.

Hanks has travelled to Australia to begin filming an upcoming movie about Elvis Presley. He is set to play Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, in the Warner Bros production.

US actor Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson arrive for the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards on January 5, 2020,

Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks Photo: AFP

Pacific's first case

Maina Sage

Maina Sage Photo: Tahoeraa Huiraatira party

The Pacific's first case of Covid-19 coronavirus has been confirmed in French Polynesia.

President Edouard Fritch said the carrier was one of French Polynesia's members of the French National Assembly, Maina Sage, who returned from Paris at the weekend.

Sage is at home in self-isolation, Fritch said.

Reports say she had met the French culture minister Franck Riester, who has also been infected.

NBA season in US suspended

The NBA has announced that all matches will be suspended until further notice, after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for coronavirus.

The announcement was made just before the Jazz game against the Oklahoma Thunder was due to start.

The NBA said the player who tested positive was not at the game.

"The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic," a statement said.

Unconfirmed reports say the player concerned was Rudy Gobert.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 04, 2019 Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert signs autographs after warm ups, before a NBA game against Los Angeles Lakers in Salt Lake City, Utah. -

Rudy Gobert Photo: AFP

New Zealand

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she is expecting the government will announce new border restrictions for people coming into New Zealand tomorrow, to counter the escalating global spread of Covid-19.

And the Rotorua District Court will need to be decontaminated because a man arrested there yesterday reported feeling unwell after travelling overseas.

But for the fifth straight day, there have been no further confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus in New Zealand, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed.

The numbers in New Zealand stay at five confirmed cases and two probable cases.

Dr Bloomfield said two cases that required hospitalisation were now recovering at home.

"I think one of the things that can give us confidence is we have quite a small number (of confirmed cases) to date," he said.

Earlier today, the World Health Organisation labelled the outbreak a global pandemic.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who heads the UN agency, said the WHO is "deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity" of the outbreak.

He also expressed concern about "the alarming levels of inaction".

"We have, therefore, made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterised as a pandemic," he said at a briefing in Geneva.

New York suspends St Patrick's Day parade

New York has postponed its annual St Patrick's Day parade because of virus fears.

The march usually attracts around two million spectators, with more than 100,000 participants.

"I know this decision didn't come easy, so I'll make this promise: this is a postponement, not a cancellation," said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

- Reuters /RNZ / BBC

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