Virus sparks wild stock market swings

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Global stock markets endured a whipsaw session 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 virus has infected more than 130,000 people and killed nearly 5,000. It has disrupted sport, schools and society and spares no one, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the latest to announce 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.

AFP/File / GEOFF ROBINSSophie Gregoire-Trudeau, the wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has tested positive for the new coronavirus

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 session 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”.

And with sentiment reversing, European markets surged higher at the open, with London’s FTSE-100 up six percent a few minutes after the opening bell and Paris and Frankfurt sharply up.

– ‘Worst in a century’ –

AFP /The virus has spread globally

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.

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.

Australia’s home minister Peter Dutton announced he had tested positive, joining other public figures such as actor Tom Hanks who have been infected as leaders in Brazil and the Philippines await test results.

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.

AFP / Daniel MUNOZPeople rush to buy food and supplies in a supermarket before quarantine hits in Bogota, Colombia

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.”


AFP / Josh EdelsonMedical workers at Kaiser Permanente French Campus test a patient for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at a drive-thru testing facility in San Francisco, California

“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’ –

POOL/AFP / AGUSTIN MARCARIANSports have been played to empty stadiums

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”, 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.