March 11, 2020 / 12:15 PM / 4 days ago

Coronavirus forces Italy to tighten lockdown, Trump to address U.S. crisis

GENEVA/LONDON (Reuters) - Now officially a global pandemic, the coronavirus outbreak is forcing Italy to tighten its nationwide lockdown by shutting bars, hairdressers and restaurants as other countries closed schools and canceled sports events and other big gatherings.

Police officers wear protective face masks at a checkpoint on the second day of an unprecedented lockdown across all of the country, imposed to slow the outbreak of coronavirus, in Naples, Italy March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Ciro de Luca

The virus sent the Dow .DJI into a bear market for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis as the massive financial stimulus promised by governments around the globe failed to reassure investors.

The United States has yet to enact any large-scale containment measures as cases topped 1,000 as testing became more available, including the nation’s first drive-through testing in Denver — a measure that proved key to containment in South Korea.

“Bottom line, it’s going to get worse,” Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Congress.

Wall Street stocks plunged almost 5% on Wednesday, and already skittish investors awaiting details on U.S. measures were unnerved by news that the White House ordered federal health officials to treat dozens of virus-related meetings as classified.

President Donald Trump, who has downplayed the risks from coronavirus, will address the nation from the Oval Office at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT).

Meanwhile in Europe, Denmark shut all schools and universities after a 10-fold rise in cases since Monday, and strain is mounting on Italy’s healthcare system despite all efforts to contain the outbreak.

The new restrictions in Italy, the most severe controls placed on a Western nation since World War Two, came after confirmed cases rose to 12,462 on Wednesday, from a previous 10,149, with the death toll jumping by 196 in 24 hours to 827.

The country’s 60 million people are under lockdown. “We will only be able to see the effects of this great effort in a couple of weeks,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said up to 70% of the population was likely to be infected as the virus spreads around the world in the absence of a cure.

With Europe the new epicenter of the outbreak, the Trump administration is likely to discourage Americans from taking trips to Europe as soon as Wednesday, sources said.

There are now more than 121,000 infections in 118 countries and over 4,300 people have died of the virus, according to a Reuters tally.

While China brought its outbreak under control and normalcy is returning, the number of cases outside China rose 13-fold in the past two weeks, and the number of countries affected tripled, with Iran and Italy the worst-hit countries in the Middle East and Europe.

“Italy and Iran are in the frontline and are suffering but other countries will be in that situation very soon,” said Mike Ryan, the head of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emergencies program.

The WHO described the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic for the first time on Wednesday but use of the word pandemic does not change the agency’s response, said Ryan.

He also said there was “a strong element of controllability” and “a real chance to blunt the curve... and reduce the number of cases”.

SPORTING EVENTS BENCHED

One of the most common strategies to contain the virus is to cancel large gatherings — a measure taking a toll on the entertainment and sporting world.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s “March Madness” basketball tournaments, among the most popular sporting competitions in North America, will take place as scheduled but without cheering fans packing the stands. Attendance will be restricted to essential staff and limited family.

The world figure skating championships, scheduled to be held in Montreal from March 16-22, have been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Quebec government said on Wednesday.

In Tokyo, there is a growing sense of angst over how coronavirus will affect the Summer Olympic Games, scheduled to start July 24.

WAR CHESTS

Britain launched a 30 billion-pound ($38.54 billion) economic stimulus plan as new finance minister Rishi Sunak said the economy faced a “significant impact” from the spread of the virus, even if it was likely to be temporary.

Slideshow (21 Images)

“Up to a fifth of the working-age population could need to be off work at any one time. And business supply chains are being disrupted around the globe,” Sunak said in an annual budget speech to parliament.

He announced measures to help companies facing a cash-flow crunch, and said the health system and other public services would receive an extra 5 billion pounds to help counter the spread of the coronavirus.

(This story corrects attribution of quote in 14th paragraph to WHO’s Mike Ryan.)

Additional reporting by Kate Kelland, Paul Sandle and David Milliken in London; David Lawder in Washington; Thomas Escritt and Paul Carrel in Berlin; Giuseppe Fonte and Giulia Segreti in Rome; Ryan Woo in Beijing; Writing by Nick Macfie, Timothy Heritage and Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman

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