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Outbreak looking more like worldwide economic crisis

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

The coronavirus outbreak has begun to look more like a worldwide economic crisis as anxiety about the disease dragged already slumping financial markets even lower.

The coronavirus outbreak has begun to look more like a worldwide economic crisis as anxiety about the disease emptied shops and amusement parks, cancelled 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 neighbourhoods and closed schools. The wide-ranging efforts to halt the spread of the illness threatened jobs, pay cheques and profits.

"This is a case where in economic terms the cure is almost worse than the disease,'' Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said.

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"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 on Friday 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 2800.

The head of the World Health Organization 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".

How the coronavirus is affecting economies

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 since last week, making this the market's worst week since 2008, during the global financial crisis.

But the impact was 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," Kim Yun-ok said.

Mr Yun-ok sells doughnuts and seaweed rolls at Seoul's Gwangjang Market, where crowds were thin Friday (local time) 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."

In Asia, Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan announced they would close, and events that were expected to attract tens of thousands of people, including a concert series by the K-pop group BTS, were called off.

The state-run Export-Import Bank of Korea shut down its headquarters in Seoul after a worker tested positive for the virus, telling 800 others to work from home. Japanese officials prepared to shutter all schools until early April.

In Italy, where the count of 650 cases is growing, hotel bookings fell, and Premier Giuseppe Conte raised the specter of recession.

Shopkeepers like Flavio Gastaldi, who has sold souvenirs in Venice for three decades, wondered if they could survive the blow.

"We will return the keys to the landlords soon," he said.

The Swiss government banned events with more than 1000 people, while at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, basins of holy water were emptied for fear of spreading germs.

"It's not cholera or the black plague," Simone Venturini said. Ms Venturini is the city councilor for economic development in Venice, Italy, where tourism already hurt by historic flooding last year has sunk with news of virus cases.

"The damage that worries us even more is the damage to the economy."

Europe's economy is already teetering on the edge of recession. A measure of business sentiment in Germany fell sharply last week.

China is a huge export market for German manufacturers. Weaker business sentiment could lead companies to postpone their investment and expansion plans.

The impact of coronavirus in the US

In the US, online retail giant Amazon said Friday that it has asked all of its 800,000 employees to postpone any non-essential travel, both within the country and internationally.

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Officials at the Food and Drug Administration said a US pharmaceutical company was dealing with a shortage of one of its drugs, because production of a key ingredient had been disrupted in China. They would not identify the company or the product.

The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, said that the US economy remains strong, but that policymakers would "use our tools" to support it if necessary.

Larry Kudlow, the top economic adviser to President Donald Trump, told reporters that the selloff in financial markets may be an overreaction to an epidemic whose long-term economic fallout remains uncertain.

"We don't see any evidence of major supply chain disruptions. I'm not trying to say nothing's happening. I think there will be impacts, but to be honest with you, at the moment, I don't see much," Mr Kudlow said.

The reaction in Thailand

But the pain was already taking hold in places like Bangkok, where merchants at the Platinum Fashion Mall staged a flash mob, shouting "Reduce the rent!" and holding signs that said "Tourists don't come, shops suffer".

Tourist arrivals in Thailand are down 50 percent compared with a year ago, according Capital Economics, a consulting firm.

Kanya Yontararak, a 51-year-old owner of a women's clothing store, said her sales have sunk as low as 1000 baht (AU$49) some days, making it a struggle to pay back a loan for her lease.

She's stopped driving to work, using public transit instead. She also packs a lunch instead of buying one and is cutting her grocery bills. The situation is more severe than the floods and political crises her store has braved in the past.

"Coronavirus is the worst situation they have ever seen," she said of the merchants.

Virus terminology explained

Recession fears

Economists have forecast global growth will slip to 2.4 percent this year, the slowest since the Great Recession in 2009, and down from earlier expectations closer to three percent.

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For the United States, estimates are falling to as low as 1.7 percent growth this year, down from 2.3 percent in 2019.

But if the disease known as COVID-19 becomes a global pandemic, economists expect the impact could be much worse, with the US and other global economies falling into recession.

"If we start to see more cases in the United States, if we start to see people not travelling domestically, if we start to see people stay home from work and from stores, then I think the hit is going to get substantially worse," Gus Faucher, an economist at PNC Financial, said.

Some saw dollar signs in the crisis. Twenty people were arrested in Italy for selling masks they fraudulently claimed provided complete protection from COVID-19. Police said they were selling them for as much as 5000 euros each.

New coronavirus strain: What you need to know

Globally, more than 83,000 people have fallen ill with the coronavirus. China, though hardest hit, has seen lower numbers of new infections, with 327 additional cases reported Friday (local time), bringing the country's total to 78,824. Another 44 people died there for a total of 2788.

South Korea has recorded 2337 cases, the most outside of China. Emerging clusters in Italy and in Iran, which has had 34 deaths and 388 cases, have led to infections of people in other countries. France and Germany were also seeing increases, with dozens of infections.

"I think this is a reality check for every government on the planet," WHO Emergencies Program Director Michael Ryan said Friday after the agency raised its alert level.

"Wake up, get ready. This virus may be on its way."

Source: 9News

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