Coronavirus spreads in three continents; markets brace for global recession

People wearing masks to prevent contracting the coronavirus wait in a line to buy masks in front of a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Countries on three continents reported their first cases of the coronavirus on Friday as the world prepared for a pandemic of the disease and investors dumped equities in expectation of a global recession.

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 fuelled fears of a recession in the United States and the Eurozone.

Rating 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.

Asian stocks tracked 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.

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 outside China with infections to 55, where about 3,700 cases have killed about 70 people. Countries other than China are accounting 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 faraway New Zealand.

While in eastern Europe, Belarus and Lithuania both reported their first cases.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said all nations should prepare.