Markets suffer record meltdown as global coronavirus alarm grows

WASHINGTON/BEIJING, March 14 ------ Global markets suffered record falls on Thursday as alarm over the coronavirus intensified, and governments from Ireland to Fiji unveiled new measures to try to slow the spread of a disease that has infected more than 127,000 people worldwide. Travelers in Europe rushed to board flights to the United States after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sweeping restrictions on travel from the continent, a decision that angered leaders there.

In Europe, North America and Australia events from sports matches to weddings were canceled or suspended, schools were closed and public gatherings restricted or banned. Trump suggested that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo could be delayed by a year. “Maybe they postpone it for a year ... if that’s possible,” Trump told reporters. “I like that better than I like having empty stadiums all over the place.” Tokyo 2020 organizers insisted they were moving ahead with preparations to hold “safe and secure” Games on schedule, starting in July.

The White House announced it was stopping public tours, while Rome’s Catholic churches were ordered closed - a move thought to be unprecedented in modern times - and the city’s faithful given dispensation not to attend Sunday mass. Disneyland in California is shutting the gates of its amusement park. But in China, where the epidemic originated, officials said the disease had peaked and the global spread could be over by June if other nations applied similarly aggressive containment measures as Beijing’s communist government, which locked down a province with a population the size of Italy’s.

Fears of the impact of such restrictions on the movement of people and goods hit global stocks and oil prices hard. Major European bourses fell by double-digit percentages for their biggest daily losses on record, led by a 17% slide in Italian stocks .FTMIB. Stimulus efforts from the European Central Bank did little to calm nerves. On Wall Street stocks slumped around 10% .DJI .SPX in their worst day since the 1987 "Black Monday" crash.

The U.S. Federal Reserve offered a hefty $1.5 trillion in short-term loans to stimulate the economy and stabilize the financial system. Australia’s central bank followed suit, pumping an usually large amount of cash into the system as panic selling across global markets threatened to drain liquidity and push up borrowing costs.