Schools shut down across much of Europe. Gatherings were canceled or banned from California to Germany. And the coronavirus reached directly into the world’s centers of power Thursday, with politicians in Canada, Brazil, Spain and elsewhere either testing positive for the new virus or putting themselves in quarantine as fallout from the pandemic further upended daily life.
The crisis has wreaked havoc on businesses and financial markets, sending U.S. stocks to their worst losses since the Black Monday crash of 1987. European markets closed with one of the worst days in history.
“We are in a global panic,” said Estelle Brack, an economist in Paris. “We are in the deep unknown.”
The European Union pushed back against President Donald Trump’s sharp restrictions on travel from Europe to the United States, slamming Trump’s “unilateral” decision and declaring the virus a “global crisis, not limited to any continent, and it requires cooperation.”
Trump defended his decision to not notify all EU leaders ahead of the announcement. “When they raise taxes on us, they don’t consult us,” Trump said. “I think that’s probably one in the same.”
The vast majority of new cases of the COVID-19 illness are now linked to Europe. Deaths in Italy topped 1,000, with more than 15,000 testing positive.
The virus, first detected in December in China, has produced crippling outbreaks in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, ignited financial panic and in the last week has seen dizzying developments erupt by the hour. European soccer leagues, American basketball, hockey and baseball games, school terms for hundreds of millions of students, weddings, baptisms, funerals, nightlife, culture high and low — all fell by the wayside with a swiftness and scope that was becoming increasingly difficult to grasp.
Amid the fear, it can be easy to forget that more than half those infected with the virus have already recovered from COVID-19, the disease it causes. Most patients have only mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever or cold, though severe symptoms including pneumonia can occur, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was isolating himself after his wife tested positive. She said she was experiencing uncomfortable symptoms but “I will be back on my feet soon.” Trudeau’s office said he has no symptoms of COVID-19 but will stay in isolation for 14 days.
In Spain, a leading member of a far-right party tested positive for the virus. In the United States, several politicians were quarantining themselves as a protective measure.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian president’s communications director tested positive just days after meeting with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
Despite that, Trump has no immediate plans to be tested or go into self-quarantine, the White House said.
Developments in the pandemic have spilled across continents and countries, from China’s ongoing lockdown of the original epicenter of the illness, to the shuttering of the Los Angeles Zoo, to Belgium ordering schools, cafes, restaurants and night clubs to close.
Across Italy, restaurants, cafes and retail shops closed after the prime minister imposed a lockdown on personal movement. Grocery stores, pharmacies and outdoor markets were allowed to operate. In Italy’s Lombardy region, the virus’s European epicenter, hospitals were overwhelmed with both the sick and the dead.
In the U.S., even a Federal Reserve pledge to inject up to $2 trillion into short-term lending markets did not halt the bleeding on Wall Street. The S&P 500 plummeted 9.5%, for a total drop of 26.7%. That puts it way past the 20% threshold for a bear market, snapping an unprecedented, nearly 11-year bull-market run. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 10% for its worst day since a nearly 23% drop on Oct. 19, 1987.
European markets also closed one of their worst days in history, unswayed by European Central Bank stimulus measures to buy up 120 billion euros ($132 billion) in bonds.
More than 128,000 people have been infected, the vast majority in just four countries: China and South Korea — where new cases are declining —and Iran and Italy, where they are not. The spread has slowed so much in China that the government sent a medical crew to Italy and offered surplus supplies to Iran.
More than 4,700 people have died worldwide.
In the United States, restrictions on gatherings were enacted from New York to California, and dozens of cultural hubs were closed. Disneyland and Disney World are both shutting down in the next few days. Broadway theaters went dark. The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater and the Kennedy Center in Washington all canceled events through March 31.
Congress closed the U.S. Capitol and House and Senate office buildings to the public until April 1, the White House canceled tours and the Supreme Court also will be closed to the public.
France, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania Algeria and Slovakia joined countries shutting down their schools, and Europe’s most successful soccer team, Real Madrid, put all its players into quarantine after one tested positive. The Czech government said it would reimpose border checks and bar entry to people from 13 countries, including Britain and several in the European Union. Slovakia closed its international airports and ground transport hubs.
Europeans were adjusting to the U.S. travel restrictions, which affected some of the world’s most heavily traveled routes and threw plans into chaos.
“We were going to get married in Las Vegas, with Elvis. It was going to be epic,” said Sandrine Reynaert of Paris who had to cancel the April 20 ceremony. Her future husband already has the date engraved on his ring.
Britain and Ireland were exempt from the U.S. policy, despite imposing far fewer restrictions than many EU countries, raising questions about the policy’s coherence. Trump accused Europe of not acting quickly enough to address the “foreign virus.”
Across the U.S., where cases have topped 1,600, a sense of urgency was pervasive.
Schools emptied of students and workplace cubicles went vacant. A rite of spring, college basketball’s NCAA tournament was canceled, while the NBA and NHL also decided their pros won’t play for now. Major League Baseball canceled spring training and postponed opening day for at least two weeks.
Concerts were canceled around the world.
“The idea of listening to and experiencing music together is gone — for now,” the Russian-German pianist Igor Levit wrote after giving a live concert on Twitter’s Periscope platform. “It’s necessary, yet so sad.”
Source: Associated Press – STAN CHOE, LORI HINNANT and TIM SULLIVAN