Virus sparks wild stock market swings

Global stock markets suffered wild swings on Friday over the spiralling coronavirus crisis that has killed nearly 5,000 people and disrupted sport, schools and society across the planet.

by Richard CARTER

Global stock markets suffered wild swings on Friday over the spiralling coronavirus crisis that has killed nearly 5,000 people and disrupted sport, schools and society across the planet.

The virus has affected all walks of life, not sparing sports stars, celebrities or world leaders, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing he was in self-imposed quarantine after his wife tested positive.

It has also forced the sealing off of entire countries, draconian government measures not seen in peacetime, and the scrapping of global sporting and cultural events from Broadway to basketball.

Japan’s stock market plunged more than 10 percent at its low on Friday, following the worst day on Wall Street since the crash of 1987 as traders scrambled to sell everything on fears the virus will catapult the world into a deep recession.

But the Nikkei rallied to close six percent down on huge volatility as traders weighed emergency big-bang measures by central banks in the United States and eurozone, and government fiscal stimulus packages.

An extraordinary day of trade in Australia saw the main stock market close higher by four percent after falling by eight percent at one point, with some players apparently seeing buying opportunities in the carnage.

Forager Funds’ Steve Johnson described the day’s trade as “completely and utterly nuts”.

– ‘Worst in a century’ –
The human toll also continued to rise, with nearly 131,500 people infected across 116 countries and territories, and 4,925 dead, according to an AFP tally.

The virus, which first emerged in China in December, has quickly spread around the world even as cases in Asia have levelled out in recent days.

China claimed “the peak” of the pandemic had passed its shores, but infections and deaths jumped dramatically in Italy, Spain and Iran, which announced 75 new deaths on Thursday.

French President Emmanuel Macron said it was “the worst health crisis in France in a century” as he ordered schools and universities closed “until further notice” — following similar moves in many other countries.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a grim warning to the public over the virus, which has predominantly killed the elderly and other people with already weakened immune systems.

“More families, many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time,” Johnson said, as he urged people with symptoms to stay at home.

With countries imposing travel bans — Australia was the latest to recommend citizens reconsider foreign travel — global tourism has ground to a halt, and many people have been left stranded as dream holidays turned to nightmares.

Betul Akcagoz, a tourist from Turkey on holiday in Vienna, told AFP: “So bad. There is nothing to do. I hope we can go back to Turkey because in our country, they said they might close the borders too.”

“I hope they won’t because we don’t want to be stuck here.”

The chaos extended to Europe’s airports, where confused passengers scrambled to redraw their plans after US President Donald Trump this week banned all travellers from mainland Europe for the next 30 days.

“We just got off our plane and we’re going to go straight back — we can’t believe it,” said 29-year-old Tiara Streng, queueing with three friends at London’s Heathrow Airport for a return flight to Colorado.

– ‘A little bit crazy’ –
The virus has cut a swathe through sporting events around the planet.

The NBA basketball league in the United States was this week shut down for 30 days.

The season-opening Australian Grand Prix became the latest high-profile casualty on Friday, with the event cancelled just hours before the action was due to start after a McLaren team member tested positive.

In England, Chelsea’s players and coaching staff were ordered into isolation as Callum Hudson-Odoi became the first Premier League player confirmed positive, as doubts swirled over the rest of the season.

The virus has placed a major question mark over the “Greatest Show on Earth”, the Tokyo Olympics, with Trump saying “maybe they postpone it for a year.”

But Japan’s Olympic minister said neither organisers in Tokyo nor the International Olympic Committee were thinking “at all” about delaying or cancelling the Games, due to open on July 24.

With authorities warning large gatherings should be avoided during the outbreak that the WHO has officially classified as a pandemic — entertainment venues like Disneyland have been closed and the curtain this week also came down on Broadway.

Ted Levitt, a 63-year-old pensioner came to New York from Maryland with his daughter to watch “Hamilton” and thought the measures were overblown as he learned on Thursday the show was cancelled.

“I think it’s not as bad as they say but I guess you’ve got to stop it somehow. I think everybody’s getting a little bit crazy,” he told AFP.

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