The Dow dropped 1,191 points on Thursday, in its worst one-day point drop in history, while the S&P 500 posted its worst day since 2011. Stocks are on track for their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.
Markets in Asia and elsewhere have also suffered, as fears of a global pandemic have continued to grow. First cases of the virus were confirmed in New Zealand, Belarus and Lithuania on Friday, as outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran continued to worsen.
In the US, opposition lawmakers criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis and raised concerns over his placing of Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the response, pointing to Pence’s track record as Indiana governor during an HIV epidemic.
Trump said his Democratic opponents were refusing to give his administration credit where it was due for their response to the virus. “While they were working on impeachment, we were working on doing this,” he said. “Because we were hearing about it.”
Trump added that the virus is “going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear. And from our shores, you know, it could get worse before it gets better. Could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.”
Asia in crisis
While the virus has spread worldwide, the worst of the outbreak remains centered in Asia.
The number of confirmed cases in China grew to 78,824 as of Friday morning, an increase of 327 from the previous day. Forty-four people died of the virus on Thursday, bringing the total in mainland China to 2,788. More than 36,000 patients have been discharged from hospital so far.
The number of new cases has eased significantly in the past week, raising hopes that people will soon be able to go back to work after weeks of self-imposed or mandatory quarantine. There are fears however that an early return could spark new outbreaks, as the virus can take up to two-weeks to show symptoms.
In Japan, the ongoing outbreak has raised questions over the viability of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. While the Games themselves aren’t until July, events such as the torch relay are due to begin next month.
Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, said, “we are working extremely closely with the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, and are providing them with risk assessment and risk management advice.”
“No decision has or will be taken in the near term regarding the future of the Olympics,” he said.
Ryan cautioned, it’s not just the Olympics they are advising on, but all mass gatherings, including religious or sports events.
Many events in the past have gone ahead during outbreaks, such as the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics which continued during an outbreak of Zika virus, Ryan added.