"It's okay to feel scared": Coronavirus brings countries close to standstill

by Reuters
Monday, 16 March 2020 15:00 GMT

(Adds markets, EU finance ministers)

* New York mayor calls for 'wartime mentality' to fight virus

* Norway PM tells children it's okay to feel scared

* U.S. Fed slashes rates, other central banks follow suit

* Action fails to contain market worries

* For interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser

By Doina Chiacu and Guy Faulconbridge

NEW YORK/LONDON, March 16 (Reuters) - Bars, restaurants, cinemas and schools were shutting down from New York and Los Angeles to Paris and Dubai in a worldwide effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, as financial markets tumbled despite emergency action by global central banks.

The U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the second time in less than two weeks, but Wall Street opened with a dizzying plunge that set off circuit breakers.

EU finance ministers were planning a coordinated economic response to the virus, which the European Commission says could push the European Union into recession.

Leaders of the G7 countries were due to hold a video conference on Monday to discuss a joint response.

European stocks fell on Monday to their lowest level since 2012, with investors still worried about the threat to the global economy. Wall Street's S&P 500 index fell more than 9% as trading resumed after an initial automatic 15-minute cutout.

In Italy, hardest-hit country in Europe, there were 368 new deaths from the COVID-19 outbreak on Sunday, a daily toll more dire than even China was recording at the peak of the outbreak that first hit its central city Wuhan.

"Many children think it is scary," Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg told a news conference, at her office, dedicated to answering children's questions about the pandemic.

"It is okay to be scared when so many things happen at the same time."

Several countries banned mass gatherings such as sports, cultural and religious events to combat the disease that has infected over 169,000 people globally and killed more than 6,500.

Just a month ago, financial markets were hitting record highs on the assumption that the outbreak would largely be contained in China. But there have now been more cases and more deaths outside mainland China than inside. Tracking the spread https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday he was ordering restaurants, bars and cafes to sell food only on a take-out or delivery basis. He also said he would order nightclubs, movie theatres, small theatre houses and concert venues to close.

"These places are part of the heart and soul of our city," he said. "But our city is facing an unprecedented threat, and we must respond with a wartime mentality."

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued similar orders.

Spain and France, where cases and fatalities have begun surging at a pace just days behind that of Italy, imposed severe lockdowns over the weekend.

The Middle East business and travel hub of Dubai said it was closing all bars and lounges until the end of March. Thailand plans to close down schools, bars, movie theatres and popular cockfighting arenas.

"The worst is yet ahead for us," said Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious diseases expert in the United States.

GETTING WORSE IN ITALY

U.S. Surgeon General Dr Jerome Adams said it was important to react aggressively.

"Do we want to go the direction of South Korea and really be aggressive and lower our mortality rates or do we want to go the direction of Italy?" he told Fox News.

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told daily Corriere della Sera that the outbreak was still getting worse, though the governor of Lombardy, the northern region that has suffered the worst, said he saw the first signs of a slowdown.

Britain has asked manufacturers including Ford, Honda and Rolls Royce to help make health equipment including ventilators to cope with the outbreak and will look at using hotels as hospitals.

The worldwide financial policy actions were reminiscent of the sweeping steps taken just over a decade ago to fight a meltdown of the global financial system, but the target now is forcing entire societies to effectively shut down.

"The issue for investors that still remains is that the virus's economic impact is still not known, if this is a one-month event or if this is a one-year event, and how deep the cutback in consumer spending is going to be," said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments in New Vernon, New Jersey.

Airlines said they would make more drastic cuts to their flying schedules, shed jobs and seek government aid because of sweeping global travel restrictions.

China said industrial output contracted at the sharpest pace in 30 years in the first two months of 2020.

The International Olympic Committee will hold talks with heads of international sports organisations on Tuesday, a source close to a federation briefed on the issue said, amid doubts the Tokyo 2020 Olympics starting on July 24 can proceed.

The Jewish faithful should avoid kissing the stones of the Western Wall, the chief rabbi of the Jerusalem site said.

And Starbucks has moved to a "to go" model in all its company-owned stores in the United States and Canada, the coffee chain said, temporarily abandoning reusable cups.

(Reporting by Doina Choicu, Leela de Krester in New York; Lindsay Dunsmuir, Nandita Bose, Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir in Washington; Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton in London; Jan Strupczewski and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Francesca Landini and Elvira Pollina in Milan; Kevin Yao in Beijing; Jaime Freed in Sydney; Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; Kay Johnson in Bangkok and Tracy Rucinski in Chicag; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie; Editing by Stephen Coates, Timothy Heritage and Peter Graff)

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