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Pandemic increasingly takes over daily lives and hammers markets

The intensifying spread of Covid-19 has dashed hopes about a quick containment.


Governments have announced a raft of measures to slow down the spreading of the coronavirus (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

Governments have announced a raft of measures to slow down the spreading of the coronavirus (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

Governments have announced a raft of measures to slow down the spreading of the coronavirus (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

The coronavirus pandemic has taken over daily lives around the globe, overwhelming hospitals, closing schools and offices, halting US presidential campaign rallies and world sports while increasing fears about the financial toll.

The intensifying spread of Covid-19 beyond Asia has dashed hopes about a quick containment, even with travel and social events curbed drastically.

Asian markets were sinking further on Friday, after US stocks had their greatest losses since the Black Monday crash of 1987 and bad European results.

Benchmarks in Japan, Thailand and India sank as much as 10%. Losses in mainland China, where the virus is subsiding, were less severe.

In the United States, Congress neared a deal with the Trump administration on a sweeping aid package with sick pay, free testing and other resources to help reassure anxious Americans and calm markets, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

People fretted over the health risks to the elderly, threatened jobs and dwindling savings while caring for children staying home from schools.

While Washington scrambled to shape an economic rescue package, the European Union pushed back against President Donald Trump’s sharp restrictions on travel from Europe to the United States, criticising Mr Trump’s “unilateral” decision and declaring the virus a “global crisis, not limited to any continent, and it requires cooperation”.

Mr Trump defended his decision to not notify all EU leaders ahead of the announcement.

“When they raise taxes on us, they don’t consult us,” Mr Trump said. “I think that’s probably one in the same.”

The spread of the virus in Europe, North America and the Middle East has drawn contrast with waning epidemics in the hardest-hit nations in Asia.

Virus Outbreak South Korea
Travel and social events across the world have been curbed drastically (Lee Jin-man/AP)

China, where the outbreak emerged late last year, still accounts for more than 60% of global infections. But on Friday it reported just eight new cases and seven deaths. More than 64,000 people have been released from hospital.

With China’s caseload slowing, the government was helping other countries with its expertise. A Chinese medical crew was heading to Italy and surplus supplies were sent to Iran.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told the UN leader his nation wants to conduct joint research on drugs and vaccines and offer “as much assistance as it can” to countries where the virus is spreading.

State media reported Mr Xi told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by phone that economic and daily life are gradually returning to normal in China thanks to “arduous endeavours” at prevention and control.

The pandemic’s new epicentre is Europe. Italy’s death toll topped 1,000 on Thursday with more than 15,000 confirmed cases. France, Spain and Germany all exceeded 2,000 cases each.

In Italy’s hardest-hit Lombardy region, hospitals were overwhelmed with both the sick and the dead. The country’s restaurants, cafes and retail shops closed in a lockdown on personal movement, though grocery stores, pharmacies and markets were allowed to operate.

France, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania Algeria and Slovakia shut down their schools, and Europe’s most successful football team, Real Madrid, put all its players into quarantine after one tested positive.

The Czech government tightened border checks for some countries, and Slovakia closed its international airports and ground transport hubs.

Europeans were adjusting to new US travel restrictions, which exempted Britain and Ireland, raising questions about the policy’s coherence.

In Iran, which exceeds 10,000 cases, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the Trump administration to immediately lift sanctions over the country’s nuclear programme.

He said the sanctions made it difficult to import medicine and medical equipment, including to identify and treat coronavirus patients. Three Iranian Cabinet members and its senior vice president tested positive for the virus.

Amid the fear, it can be easy to forget that more than half of the world’s 128,000 people infected have already recovered.

Most patients have only mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever or cold, though severe symptoms including pneumonia can occur, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems.

The virus has infected professional athletes, entertainers and political figures.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was isolating himself after his wife tested positive.

She said she was experiencing uncomfortable symptoms but “I will be back on my feet soon”.

Mr Trudeau’s office said he has no symptoms of Covid-19 but will stay in isolation for 14 days.

Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is in isolation at a hospital after testing positive.

He returned to Australia on Sunday from Washington DC, where he met US Attorney-General William Barr and Mr Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, last week.

Australian authorities have stepped up their response to the outbreak by recommending people avoid organised, non-essential gatherings of 500 or more from Monday and to reconsider all international travel.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian president’s communications director tested positive just days after meeting with Mr Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Despite that, Mr Trump has no immediate plans to be tested or self-quarantine, the White House said.

Mr Trump did, however, halt his trademark political rallies, leaving the US presidential campaign trail all-but-empty with leading Democratic contenders Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders cancelling events, too.

Amid all the cancellations across the sports world, the biggest athletic competition of them all — the Summer Olympics — was still firmly on the calendar.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Tokyo organising committee were not considering cancelling or delaying the Games, “absolutely not at all,” Japan’s Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto said.