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Historic Market Plunge Amid Global Scramble To Contain ‘Invisible Enemy’

March 16 (Reuters) – Coronavirus fears led to a historic drop in U.S. stocks, shut borders and disrupted daily life around the world, as governments took increasingly drastic measures to try to reduce the severity of the global outbreak.

Financial markets had their worst day in 30 years despite emergency action by global central banks to try to prevent a recession, with U.S. stock markets falling 12% to 13%, wiping out trillions of dollars in market value.

Just a month ago, financial markets were hitting record highs on the assumption the outbreak would largely be contained in China and not cause disruptions beyond what was seen with earlier viral outbreaks of Ebola, SARS and MERS. There have now been more cases and more deaths outside mainland China than inside, with 180,000 cases worldwide and over 7,000 deaths. 

Canada, Chile and other countries closed their borders to visitors. Peru deployed masked military personnel to block major roads, while Ireland launched a campaign to recruit more healthcare workers. Airlines slashed flights, shed jobs and asked governments for billions of dollars in loans and grants.

In contrast to much of the world, Mexico and Brazil still held large political rallies and the United Kingdom kept its schools open.

U.S. states pleaded with the Trump administration on Monday to coordinate a national response to the outbreak, saying patchwork measures enacted by state and local authorities were insufficient to confront the coast-to-coast emergency that has killed at least 74 Americans.

A few hours later, President Donald Trump urged Americans to halt most social activities for 15 days and not congregate in groups larger than 10 people in a newly aggressive effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Calling the highly contagious virus an “invisible enemy,” Trump said the worst of the outbreak could be over by July, August or later and warned a recession was possible.

However, the United States was not yet closing its borders or mandating curfews or business closures on a national scale.

Many states and cities had already taken those steps or were preparing to. San Francisco area residents will be urged to shelter in place for three weeks starting on Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

A White House adviser said the United States could pump $ 800 billion or more into the economy to minimize economic damage.

EU finance ministers were planning a coordinated economic response to the virus, which the European Commission says could push the European Union into recession.

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