Countries on three continents reported their first cases of the coronavirus on Friday as the world prepared for a pandemic and investors dumped equities in expectation of a global recession, Reuters reported.
Share prices were on track for the worst week since the global financial crisis in 2008 as virus-related disruptions to international travel and supply chains fueled fears of recession in the United States and the Euro zone.
Asian stocks followed a plunge on Wall Street, where the benchmark S&P 500 index fell more than 4% on Thursday, extending a rout that has sliced more than 10% off of its closing peak on Feb. 19.
“The coronavirus now looks like a pandemic. Markets can cope even if there is big risk as long as we can see the end of the tunnel,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. “But at the moment, no one can tell how long this will last and how severe it will get.”
Mainland China – where the virus originated late last year – reported 327 new cases, the lowest since Jan. 23, taking its tally to more than 78,800 cases with almost 2,800 deaths.
Four more countries reported first cases, taking the number of countries and territories outside China with infections to 55, with more than 4,200 cases killing about 70 people.
Countries other than China now account for about three-quarters of new infections.
An Italian man who arrived in Nigeria this week was confirmed as the first coronavirus case in Africa’s most populous country. And a person who returned on a flight from Iran became the first in New Zealand.
In eastern Europe, Belarus and Lithuania reported their first cases.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said all nations should prepare.
“This virus has pandemic potential,” Tedros said in Geneva on Thursday. “This is not a time for fear. This is a time for taking action to prevent infection and save lives now.”
Ratings agency Moody’s said a pandemic – usually taken to mean a disease spreading quickly in different places – would trigger global and U.S. recessions in the first half of the year.