Global stock markets went on a rollercoaster ride Friday over the surging coronavirus crisis that is upending events across the planet and affecting people from all walks of life, including sports stars, celebrities and world leaders.
The death toll from COVID-19 jumped over 5,000 on Friday as the number of cases around the world topped 134,000, according to an AFP tally.
Europe is bearing the brunt of increasing infections, but Iran clocked more deaths on Friday and cases were reported in Kenya and Ethiopia, the first in east Africa.
Across the globe, governments are imposing draconian measures never before seen in peacetime — sealing off borders, closing schools and cancelling public gatherings.
The virus has also torn up the sporting and cultural calendar, with top-flight events from Broadway to English Premier League football scrapped.
Financial markets are reeling on fears that the pandemic will catapult the world into a deep recession, with central banks taking emergency measures to try to contain the economic fallout.
Asian stocks tumbled in volatile business following the worst day on Wall Street since the crash of 1987 as traders scrambled to sell, wiping trillions off market valuations.
But European stocks and oil prices recovered on what analysts said were hopes of a US stimulus package.
‘Worst in a century’
The virus, which first emerged in China in December, has spread relentlessly around the world even as cases in Asia have levelled out in recent days.
South Korea — once grappling with the largest coronavirus outbreak outside China — saw newly recovered patients exceed fresh infections for the first time, as it reported the lowest number of new cases for three weeks.
China earlier this week claimed “the peak” of the pandemic had passed its shores, but infections and deaths have jumped dramatically in Italy, Spain and Iran.
COVID-19 is sparing no-one. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he was in self-imposed quarantine after his wife tested positive, the day after Hollywood star Tom Hanks said he and his wife were infected.
Australia’s home minister Peter Dutton announced he had tested positive, while as leaders in Brazil and the Philippines await test results.
France — the world’s most visited country — has ordered schools and universities closed until further notice and announced it was banning gatherings of more 100 people, following similar moves in many other countries.
President Emmanuel Macron said it was “the worst health crisis in France in a century”.
The measures came after Italy — second worst hit in the world — imposed the continent’s toughest response to the outbreak, shutting all shops except for pharmacies and groceries in the hope of stemming contagion and easing the burden on overstretched hospitals.
With nations imposing travel bans and closing borders, global tourism has ground to a halt, throwing the aviation industry into chaos and leaving travellers stranded.
In European airports, confused passengers scrambled to redraw their plans after US President Donald Trump this week banned all travellers from mainland Europe for 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.
The Czech Republic became the latest European country to order the closure of its borders, sealing it off from a number of countries including virus hotspots.
Such measures were criticised by EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who said travel bans were not seen by the WHO as being effective.
Fellow EU state Hungary has also imposed border restrictions — with outspoken nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban blaming foreigners for the spread of COVID-19.
“Our experience is that primarily foreigners brought in the disease, and that it is spreading among foreigners,” he said in a radio interview.
‘A little bit crazy’
The virus has cut a swathe through sporting events around the planet.
The English Premier League became the latest high-profile casualty, suspending all fixtures until April 4, while the season-opening Australian Grand Prix was cancelled just hours before the action was due to start.
The start of India’s Premier League — the world’s most lucrative cricket competition — has also been postponed, while the NBA basketball league in the United States was this week shut down for 30 days.
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”, sparking furious denials from officials in the Japanese capital.
He later praised Tokyo’s Olympic preparations and their “magnificent” venue on Twitter, adding there were “lots of options”.
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.
Reporting by AFP
Image: A worker disinfects the interior of a public bus in the capital of Slovakia (AFP/File / VLADIMIR SIMICEK)