WHO warns threat of coronavirus pandemic ‘very real’ as stocks plummet
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WHO warns threat of coronavirus pandemic ‘very real’ as stocks plummet

Countries around the globe shut down popular sites, cancel events, as part of measures to contain spread of virus

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press briefing on the coronavirus at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on March 9, 2020. (Fabrice Coffrini/ AFP)
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press briefing on the coronavirus at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on March 9, 2020. (Fabrice Coffrini/ AFP)

SOAVE, Italy (AP) — Fear over the coronavirus epidemic touched off prison riots in Italy on Monday, sent global stock markets and oil prices plunging, and caused a cascading shutdown of sites and events ranging from Saudi schools to Poland’s annual Holocaust remembrance march.

While many of Beijing’s white-collar workers returned to their jobs as new infections subsided in China, about 16 million people under a widespread lockdown in northern Italy struggled to navigate the new rules of their mass isolation.

Global oil prices suffered their worst percentage losses since the start of the 1991 Gulf War, and US stocks plunged so quickly in the first few minutes after markets opened that it triggered a 15-minute halt in trading.

“Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The great advantage we have is the decisions we all make as governments, businesses, communities, families and individuals can influence the trajectory of this epidemic.”

Police officers and soldiers check passengers leaving from Milan main train station, Italy, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

More than 111,000 people have tested positive for the disease and over 3,800 people with the virus have died, most of them in China. More than 62,000 people have already recovered. But Italy’s struggle to halt the virus’s spread was emerging as a cautionary tale.

Inmates at more than two dozen Italian prisons rioted against restrictions on family visits and other containment measures, and six died after they broke into the infirmary and overdosed on anti-psychotic medicine.

Travelers at Milan’s main train station had to sign police forms self-certifying that they are traveling for “proven work needs,” situations of necessity, health reasons, or to return home. They also needed to provide identity documents, contact numbers, and an exact reason for travel from the financial hub.

Both Milan and the popular tourist city of Venice were among the places under the quarantine lockdown. Across Italy, museums and archaeological sites were closed, weddings were canceled, and restaurants were told to keep patrons a meter (more than 3 feet) apart. The country has counted 7,375 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and 366 deaths, more than any other country outside of Asia.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass alone at the Vatican hotel, where he lives, live-streaming the event, but he did resume some meetings.

Trying to send a message of confidence in the economy, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife walked on Paris’s Champs-Elysees avenue but kept a one-meter security distance from passersby. “I’m shaking hands using my heart,” he said, as he waved to people from a distance.

He called for a proportionate government response.

“We cannot shut down the country, but we need to protect the most fragile people,” he said.

A view of St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, March 9, 2020. (Anteo Marinoni/LaPresse via AP)

China’s slow re-emergence from weeks of extreme travel restrictions offered a grim sense of the longer-term effects the virus can have on a country’s economy.

“Our business is one-fifth of what it was before,” said Cheng Sheng, who helps run a stand in Beijing that sells sausages and noodles. “There’s much less foot traffic. There are no people.”

Infections were reported in more than half the world’s countries, and flashpoints were erupting around the globe.

“We are working for valuable time, time in which scientists can research medicines and a vaccine” and in which governments can help stock up on protective equipment, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has reported over 1,100 cases and, as of Monday, its first two deaths.

In Iran, state television said the virus had killed another 43 people, pushing the official toll to 237, with 7,161 confirmed cases. But many fear the scope of illness is far wider there.

In the United States, where more than 500 infections have been reported, the Grand Princess cruise ship, which has at least 21 confirmed cases, was expected to dock in Oakland, California, amid elaborate protective procedures.

Fleets of buses and planes were ready to whisk the more than 2,000 passengers to military bases or their home countries for a 14-day quarantine.

In Florida, passengers disembarked from the Regal Princess after it received clearance to dock. Two crew members eyed as possible carriers tested negative for the virus.

The Caribbean Princess cruise ship, meanwhile, cut short a Fort Lauderdale-Mexico cruise because crew members had been on another ship where people were infected.

A passenger waves aboard the Grand Princess off the coast of San Francisco as a media boat approaches on March 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

In Washington, the Capitol’s attending physician’s office said “several” members of Congress had had contact with a person who had attended a recent political conference and subsequently developed COVID-19. They “remain in good health,” the office said. Two members of Congress, Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Paul Gosar, said they are isolating themselves after determining they had contact with the person.

Countries showed a willingness to take tough steps to try to stop the virus’s spread.

After earlier closing its land borders, Saudi Arabia cut off air and sea travel to and from Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, South Korea, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. All Saudi schools and universities closed beginning Monday.

Qatar cut off travel to 15 countries and said it would shut down schools and universities beginning Tuesday.

Medical staff measures the temperature of a bus driver at the border crossing with Germany in Rozvadov, Czech Republic, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

The Czech Republic banned visits to hospitals and retirement homes and began random checks on vehicles arriving at border crossings, including taking the temperatures of occupants.

Organizers of the annual Holocaust remembrance march in southern Poland postponed it this year, due to coronavirus fears, and soccer authorities said at least four major matches — in France, Germany and Spain — would take place with no fans.

China reported 40 new cases of the virus, its lowest number since January 20. More than three-quarters of the country’s surviving virus patients have been released from treatment. South Korea reported 165 more cases, bringing its total to 7,478.

Albania and Brunei announced their first cases of COVID-19, and the president of the Philippines declared a public health emergency.

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