WHO warns of ‘global level risk’ as pandemic fears wallop global markets

The World Health Organization’s warning on Friday that the coronavirus is now a “global level” risk intensified fears for its effect on the global economy and added to panicked selling that pushed Wall Street deeper into its worst correction since the 2008 financial crisis.

With infection tolls mounting around the world — including Nigeria and Mexico, which reported their first cases on Friday — pandemic fears have routed global markets for seven straight days. Although China’s infection rates have been on the wane, there are still more than 83,000 cases worldwide — and more than 2,800 deaths reported globally.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, said the outbreak “has pandemic potential” — but that could change with a sufficiently robust response.

Calling it a pandemic “is not helpful when you’re still trying to control a disease,” he added.

The largest growth of cases has come from South Korea. Italy, where the death toll has risen along with new COVID-19 infections, remains Europe’s biggest hot zone; meanwhile Iran’s deaths and new cases are soaring as well.

U.S. officials have been sounding the alarm for much of the week. However, former Centers for Disease Control director Tom Frieden, who served under President Barack Obama and oversaw the Ebola outbreak, tweeted on Friday that “Yes, #COVID19 is going to be a pandemic. That doesn’t mean it will be a bad pandemic.”

And the WHO downplayed one emerging theory that the outbreak could be mitigated by warmer weather, like the flu bug. Shira Doron, an epidemiologist at Tufts University, also told Yahoo Finance on Friday that it wasn’t clear that the virus was seasonal.

“There is no reason to think this virus will act differently in different settings,” the WHO’s Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said on Friday.

Reuters reported Friday that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Anthony Fauci told lawmakers in a closed briefing that the U.S. does not have enough coronavirus testing resources. Problems with testing kits have slowed down the country’s ability to test and report cases.


NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 27: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on February 27, 2020 in New York City. With concerns growing about how the coronavirus might affect the economy, stocks fell for the fourth straight day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost almost 1200 points on Thursday. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

Markets are poised to extend their worst streak since the 2008 financial crisis, with major benchmarks plunging in panic selling related to the coronavirus outbreak. The dramatic sell-off has shaved over $5 trillion off the market’s value globally, and the worst may not be over.

The Dow (^DJI) is coming off its worst-ever point drop, while the S&P 500 Index (^GSPC) has plummeted into a correction at a historically rapid pace. Meanwhile, calls are growing for central banks and governments to coordinate a policy response.

Pharmaceutical companies continue to be, largely, bucking the trend, with some sustaining growth as the markets continue their downward spiral.

The biggest winners include names like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Gilead (GILD), Sanofi (SNY) and Moderna (MRNA) — all of which stand to benefit from the development of a coronavirus vaccine. Meanwhile, teleconferencing company Zoom (ZM) has seen a spike in users as many quarantined or restricted in travel turn to the online platform to communicate and conduct business.

Around the World

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of Feb. 28.

The WHO said on Friday that the change to their highest alert level was not to alarm anyone, but rather to inform countries they need to start taking the outbreak seriously and being on alert and ready to respond.

In Japan, where the pathogen has prompted mass school closings and jeopardized the Summer Olympics, Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are shutting down as part of a government containment effort. This adds pressure on the entertainment giant (DIS), which already said it could lose $175 million from two-week closures in China and Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Sub-Saharan Africa reported its first coronavirus case in Nigeria late Thursday, while Mexico and Iceland reported their first cases Friday. In Iran, several top officials are also stricken with the virus, including the health minister and the vice president.

Separately, new fears have emerged from a reported case of a dog testing positive in Hong Kong and one reinfection in Japan. One Google employee based in Switzerland has also tested positive for the disease, but there were no immediate details on how it was contracted.

The disease’s rapid spread globally has hammered the travel and leisure industries. Among the hardest hit are Asia’s regional carriers: Cathay Pacific has taken a one-two punch, with 75% of its work force forced to take unpaid leave as the company struggles with sharply reduced travel.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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