The coronavirus death toll climbed to seven in Italy on Monday and several Middle East countries were dealing with their first infections, sending markets into a tailspin over fears of a global pandemic even as China eased curbs with no new cases reported in Beijing and other cities.
The virus had put Chinese cities into lockdown in recent weeks, disrupted air traffic and blocked global supply chains for everything from cars to smartphones.
But China’s actions, especially in Wuhan – the epicenter of the outbreak – probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases, said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) delegation in China, Bruce Aylward, urging the rest of the world to learn the lesson of acting fast.
“They’re at a point now where the number of cured people coming out of hospitals each day is much more than the sick going in,” he said.
The surge of cases outside mainland China triggered sharp falls in global markets as investors fled to safe havens. European equities markets suffered their biggest slump since mid-2016, gold soared to a seven-year high and oil tumbled 4%. [MKTS/GLOB][.N]
The Dow Jones Industrials dove to a two-month low while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq were at their lowest in three weeks on Monday, all off by about 3%.
Wall Street’s fear gauge, CBOE Volatility Index , jumped to a six-month high.[.N] Early, last week, Wall Street’s main indexes notched record highs, partly on optimism that the global economy would be able to snap back from the coronavirus.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the word “pandemic” did not fit the facts.
“We must focus on containment while preparing for a potential pandemic,” he told reporters in Geneva, adding that the world was not witnessing an uncontained spread or large-scale deaths.
The epidemic in China peaked between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and has been declining since, the WHO said.
Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergencies program, told reporters it was still possible to contain the virus and that it might appear each year like the flu.
“The virus may settle down into an endemic pattern of transmission, into a seasonal pattern of transmission, or it could accelerate into a full-blown global pandemic,” he said in Geneva on Monday. “And at this point, it is not possible to say which of those realities is going to happen.”