The coronavirus outbreak began to look more like a worldwide economic crisis on Friday as anxiety about the disease emptied shops, cancelled events, cut trade and travel and dragged already slumping financial markets even lower.
The wide-ranging efforts to halt the spread of the illness threatened jobs, pay 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 on Friday as Mexico, Belarus, Lithuania, New Zealand, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Iceland and the Netherlands reported their first cases.
More than 85,000 people worldwide have contracted the illness, with deaths topping 2,800.
The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) 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”.
The economic ripples have already reached around the globe.
Stock markets around the world plunged again on Friday.
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,” said Kim Yun-ok, who sells doughnuts and seaweed rolls at Seoul’s Gwangjang Market, where crowds were thin ON Friday 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.”
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) February 28, 2020
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 – which has reported 888 cases, the most of any country outside of Asia — hotel bookings fell, and Premier Giuseppe Conte raised the spectre 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.
“This not a time for panic – it is time to be prepared."
— United Nations (@UN) February 28, 2020
The Swiss government banned events with more than 1,000 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,” said Simone Venturini, the city councillor 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.
Globally, more than 85,000 people have fallen ill with the coronavirus.
China, though hardest hit, has seen lower numbers of new infections, with 327 additional cases reported ON Friday, bringing the country’s total to 78,824. Another 44 people died there for a total of 2,788.
South Korea has recorded 2,337 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 programme director Michael Ryan said on Friday after the agency raised its alert level.
“Wake up, get ready. This virus may be on its way.”