Fallout from coronavirus reaches from Italy to Wall Street

NEW YORK (AP) — Schools shut down across much of Europe. Gatherings were canceled or banned from California to Germany. And the coronavirus reached directly into the world’s centers of power Thursday, with politicians in Canada, Brazil, Spain and elsewhere either testing positive for the new virus or putting themselves into self-quarantine as fallout from pandemic further upended daily life.

The escalating crisis has wreaked havoc on businesses and financial markets, sending U.S. stocks to their worst losses since the Black Monday crash of 1987. European markets closed with one of the worst days in history.

“We are in a global panic," said Estelle Brack, an economist in Paris. “We are in the deep unknown.”

After weeks downplaying the virus, U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement of strict rules that keep most Europeans from visiting came as a shock. Within hours, even the European Union's passport-free travel came into question, with guards in places that had been without borders for more than a decade and airports shut down.

The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield called Europe “the new China,” noting that the vast majority of new cases of the COVID-19 illness are linked to the continent. Deaths in Italy topped 1,000, with more than 15,000 testing positive.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, also acknowledged that the United States was lagging other countries in testing to learn how widespread the virus really is.

“It is a failing, let’s admit it," he told lawmakers.

The European Union quickly slammed Trump's "unilateral" decision, declaring the virus a "global crisis, not limited to any continent, and it requires cooperation."

“It’s not division that will allow us to respond to what is today a global crisis,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised speech.

The virus, first detected three months ago in China, has produced crippling outbreaks in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, ignited global financial panic and in the last week has seen dizzying developments erupt by the hour. European soccer leagues, American basketball, hockey and baseball games, school terms for millions of students, weddings, baptisms, funerals, nightlife, culture high and low — all fell by the wayside with a swiftness that was becoming increasingly difficult to grasp.

Amid the fears, it can be easy to forget that more than half those infected have recovered from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Most patients have only mild or moderate symptoms, such as a fever or cold, though symptoms can be severe, including pneumonia, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems.

On Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he was isolating himself at home because his wife showed flu-like symptoms after her return from Britain. In Spain, a leading member of a far-right party tested positive for the virus. In the United States, several politicians have announced they would quarantine themselves as a protective measure.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian president's communications director tested positive just days after meeting with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Despite that, Trump has no immediate plans to be tested or go into self-quarantine, the White House said.

“Both the President and Vice President had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Developments in just one 24-hour period included an official designation of “pandemic” from the World Health Organization, the dramatic halt to most travel between the United States and 26 European countries, and infections being announced in rapid-fire pace by Hollywood celebrities, sports stars and political leaders as well as ordinary people on cruise ships.

In Italy's Lombardy region, the virus's European epicenter, hospitals were overwhelmed with both the sick and the dead. The nation with the second-oldest population in the world has seen its fatality rate reach more than 6%, far higher than other countries.

In the U.S., even a Federal Reserve pledge to inject up to $2 trillion into short-term lending markets did not halt the bleeding on Wall Street. The S&P 500 plummeted 9.5%, for a total drop of 26.7%. That puts it way past the 20% threshold for a bear market, snapping an unprecedented, nearly 11-year bull-market run. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 10% for its worst day since a nearly 23% drop on Oct. 19, 1987.

European markets also closed one of their worst days in history, unswayed by European Central Bank stimulus measures to buy up 120 billion euros ($132 billion) in bonds.

More than 128,000 people in more than 110 countries have been infected by the virus. The vast majority are in just four countries: China and South Korea — where new cases are declining —and Iran and Italy, where they are not. The spread has slowed so much in China that the government sent a medical crew to Italy and offered surplus supplies to Iran.

More than 4,700 people have died worldwide.

American restrictions on gatherings were enacted from New York to California, leading to a rare shutdown of Disneyland's parks in the nation's most populous state.

Congress shut the U.S. Capitol and House and Senate office buildings to the public until April 1, the White House canceled tours and the Supreme Court will be closed to the public.

In Italy, new restrictions closed restaurants, cafes and retail shops Thursday after the prime minister imposed a nationwide lockdown on personal movement. Grocery stores, pharmacies and outdoor markets were allowed to operate, as were newspaper stands.

Rosanna Faritna, whose family has run a newspaper kiosk in Rome’s historic center since the 19th century, was torn about staying open.

“I’d rather be home. I’m worried, even if I’m keeping a distance," she said, a scarf around her face.

France, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania Algeria and Slovakia joined the growing list of countries shutting down their school systems, and Europe's most successful soccer team, Real Madrid, put all its players into quarantine after one tested positive. The Czech government said it would reimpose border checks and bar entry to people from 13 countries, including Britain and several in the European Union. Slovakia closed its international airports and ground transport hubs.

Europeans were adjusting to the U.S. travel restrictions, which affected some of the world's most heavily traveled routes and threw plans into chaos.

"We were going to get married in Las Vegas, with Elvis. It was going to be epic," said Sandrine Reynaert of Paris who had to cancel the April 20 ceremony. Her future husband already has the date engraved on his ring.

Britain and Ireland were exempt, despite imposing far fewer restrictions in response to the virus than many EU countries, raising questions about the coherence of the U.S. policy. Trump accused Europe of not acting quickly enough to address the "foreign virus” and claimed that U.S. clusters were “seeded” by European travelers.

Across the U.S., where cases have topped 1,600, a sense of urgency was pervasive.

Schools emptied of students and workplace cubicles went vacant. A rite of spring, college basketball's NCAA tournament was canceled, while the NBA and NHL also decided their pros won't play for now. Major League Baseball canceled spring training and postponed opening day for at least two weeks.

TV shows taped without audiences, and rush-hour crowds disappeared from public transportation. Concerts were canceled around the world.

“The idea of listening to and experiencing music together is gone — for now," the Russian-German pianist Igor Levit wrote after giving a live concert on Twitter's Periscope platform. “It's necessary, yet so sad.”

Among those newly testing positive were double Oscar winner Tom Hanks and his actress wife, Rita Wilson, in Australia; Juventus defender Daniele Rugani in Italy; Iran's senior vice president and two other Cabinet ministers; and Spain's equality minister.


Hinnant reported from Paris and Sullivan from Minneapolis. Contributing were Associated Press writers Maria Cheng and Jill Lawless in London; Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Samuel Petrequin in Brussels; John Leicester in Paris; Colleen Barry in Soave, Italy; Frances D'Emilio in Rome; Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington; Chris Grygiel and Lisa Baumann in Seattle; and David B. Caruso and Theo Wayt in New York.


The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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