A deepening health crisis became an economic one too Friday, with the virus outbreak sapping financial markets, emptying shops and businesses, and putting major sites and events off limits.
As the list of countries hit by the illness edged toward 60 with Belarus, Lithuania, New Zealand, Nigeria, Azerbaijan and the Netherlands reporting their first cases, the threats to livelihoods were increasingly eyed as warily as the threats to lives.
“It’s not cholera or the black plague,” said Simone Venturini, the city councilor for economic development in Venice, Italy, where tourism already hurt by historic flooding last year has sunk with news of virus cases. “The damage that worries us even more is the damage to the economy.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said the outbreak “has pandemic potential,” but whatever terminology officials used, the rippling effects were clear.
Attractions including Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan announced closures and events that expected tens of thousands, including a tour by the K-pop group BTS, were called off.
Investors watched warily as stocks fell across Asia and girded to see if Wall Street’s brutal run would continue, while businesses both small and large saw weakness and people felt it in their wallets.
“There’s almost no one coming here,” said Kim Yun-ok, who sells doughnuts and seaweed rolls at Seoul’s Gwangjang Market, where crowds were thin Friday as South Korea counted 571 new cases — more than China. “I am just hoping that the outbreak will come under control soon.”
In Italy, where the count of 650 cases is growing, hotel bookings were dropping and Premier Giuseppe Conte raised the specter of recession. Shopkeepers like Flavio Gastaldi, who has sold souvenirs in Venice for three decades, wondered if they could survive the blow.
“We will return the keys to the landlords soon,” he said.
The economic hurt came with anger in Bangkok, where tenants at the Platinum Fashion Mall staged a flash mob, shouting “Reduce the rent!” and holding signs that said “Tourists don’t come, shops suffer. “
Kanya Yontararak, a 51-year-old owner of a women’s clothing store, said her sales have sunk as low as 1,000 baht ($32) some days, making it a struggle to pay back a loan for her lease. She’s stopped driving to work, using public transit instead, packs a lunch instead of buying, and is cutting her grocery bills. The situation is more severe than the floods and political crises her store has braved in the past.
“Coronavirus is the worst situation they have ever seen,” she said of the merchants.