A stockbroker at the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi on March 16, 2020. Photo: AFP

Stocks tumbled on Monday despite emergency central bank measures to prop up the virus-battered global economy, as countries across Europe went into full lockdown and major US cities shut bars and restaurants.

Normal life has been thrown into unprecedented chaos, with governments imposing restrictions rarely seen outside wartime, including the closing of borders, home quarantine orders and the scrapping of public events including major sporting fixtures.

Leaders from the Group of Seven, the world’s richest nations, are due to hold a video summit later Monday on the crisis and EU top brass will be discussing their response on Tuesday.

COVID-19 first emerged in China late last year, but Europe is now the biggest flashpoint and the death toll on the continent surged at the weekend, while new cases have been reported in Africa.

Worldwide, the number of deaths has jumped to over 6,500 with more than 168,000 infections in 142 countries and the weekend saw a tipping point with a majority of fatalities now outside China.

Italy – the hardest hit country in Europe – along with France and Spain all announced their worst one-day tolls on Sunday.

Germany on Monday became the latest European country to impose border controls, while across the continent, shops, schools and many businesses have shut their doors.

The German government also banned gatherings in churches, mosques and synagogues and said playgrounds and non-essential shops would close.

With the virus infecting nearly every sector of the global economy, concerns are growing the world will be catapulted into a damaging recession, leading to stock markets enduring losses and wild swings.

The US Federal Reserve attempted to stem the panic with drastic measures, slashing its key interest rate to virtually zero.

The Bank of Japan on Monday also announced emergency economic stimulus measures for the world’s third-biggest economy, adding to similar efforts by European central banks.

But the moves did little to stem the bloodletting on financial markets as investors remained in panic mode.  

Wall Street stocks sank more than 10 percent after a brief suspension triggered by steep losses, following sharp nosedives in European and markets.

“The biggest concern has to be that the big G7 central banks have exhausted their policy tool kit, especially the biggest and most influential one of them all, the Fed,” said AxiCorp’s Stephen Innes.

Major world airlines on Monday axed almost all flights temporarily, triggering pleas to help carriers survive.

China provided more evidence of COVID-19’s dire economic impact, announcing factory output had contracted for the first time in nearly 30 years.

And European car makers including Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot began shutting down their factories.

Stocking up on weed

Normal life was at a standstill in much of western Europe, with France ordering all non-essential businesses closed and Spain banning people from leaving home except to go to work, get medical care or buy food.

France is bracing for even tougher restrictions after the government also closed schools and universities.

Despite US President Donald Trump’s insistence there is enough food to last through the pandemic, panic-buying has been seen around the world as anxious people stock up on essentials fearing a lengthy period of enforced quarantine. 

Larry Grossman, manager at a Manhattan supermarket, said he had never seen anything like it in 40 years.

“I have been through Hurricane Sandy… through 9/11, I have never seen shopping like this,” he told AFP as he restocked empty shelves.

In New York and Los Angeles, bars and restaurants have been closed, while several casinos in Las Vegas have shuttered.

In the Netherlands, cannabis smokers aiming to keep calm and carry on queued up outside Dutch “coffee shops” on Sunday after the government ordered their closure.

“For maybe for the next two months, we’re not able to get some weed so it should be nice to at least have some in the house,” said Jonathan outside a “coffee shop” in The Hague.

Air travel

There was pandemonium at several airports as travellers scrambled to get home with countries increasingly slamming shut their borders to prevent the virus spreading.

In the US, passengers complained of massive queues as staff battled with new entry rules and stipulations on medical screening, leading some to worry they were exposing themselves to the virus in the crowds.

In the sporting world, there is growing opposition to holding the Olympics as planned this summer, and there are also doubts about the European football championships set to take place in 12 countries this year.

However, in China there were continuing signs of improvement, with only four new COVID-19 cases recorded in Wuhan – where the virus was first detected in December – although imported cases rose.

And there have been heartwarming scenes around the world as people attempt to lift spirits.

In Switzerland, Geneva residents applauded, whistled and rang bells from their balconies and windows to thank health workers on the frontline.

Images of Italians singing from their balconies have also gone viral, as the country becomes accustomed to the lockdown.

“A year ago, nobody played any more so I sold mine. Now I’m kicking myself. I’m fighting boredom by studying a little in the morning and just watching TV,” said 19-year-old Gianpaolo.

– AFP

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