Washington | US health officials have warned Americans to begin preparing for a seemingly inevitable outbreak of coronavirus infections across the country, triggering a fresh plunge on stock markets and rush for haven assets.
In a dramatic change of tone, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the country was no longer immune from the disruption and illness caused by the virus.
“Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in the United States,” said Nancy Messonnier, an official at the centre said on Tuesday (Wednesday AEDT).
“It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” she said.
US stocks collapsed and bond yields fell to the lowest levels on record after the official warning forced investors to batten down the hatches.
Fears are growing that a flurry of reports of new cases and deaths around the world will smash supply chains that help grease the wheels of the global economy.
The yield on America’s benchmark 10-year Treasury bonds, which hare sought on by investors the world over at times of distress, slid to 1.31 per cent.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed close to 800 points, or 2.9 per cent, extending Monday’s jarring 1000 point crash.
Economists are increasingly ramping up their estimates of the likely hit to global gross domestic product, forcing the International Monetary Fund to cut its growth forecasts for the global economy.
President Donald Trump said the virus was “very well under control” in the US and that the “very few people with it… are all getting better”.
He said the US government was putting $US2.5 billion into the fight and that “there’s a very good chance you’re not going to die”.
“In fact we’re very close to a vaccine,” he claimed.
Top White House economics advisor Larry Kudlow said the US economy will be able to weather any disruption from the global spread of coronavirus, and that there was no expectation of official rate cuts to offset any fallout.
“I’m not hearing the Fed’s going to make any panic moves,” he said, adding that Americans and investors shouldn’t overreact.
While the President and White House downplayed the risk to Americans urged calm, US health officials struck a decidedly less benign tone.
The US currently has reported fewer than 20 coronavirus cases, but the CDC said Americans should start to begin preparing for school closures, cancelled sporting events, concerts and business meetings if the virus spreads.
Dr Mesonnier, who is the director of the National Center for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases, said the outbreak is “rapidly evolving and expanding” and that “now is the time” for organisations to begin preparing.
Americans should assume it will land here and will be bad, she said.
Bloomberg News reported that the US has far fewer protective masks than it would need in the case of a major coronavirus outbreak, Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar told Congress on Tuesday.
There are about 30 million stockpiled N95 masks but would need as many as 300 million for health workers in an outbreak, he said.
US secretary of State Michael Pompeo slammed China and Iran for suppressing information about the infection that might have lessened the impact of the virus or surprised other countries.
Rather than expelling journalists, Mr Pompeo said in reference to the expulsion last week of three Wall Street Journal reporters, China should have “permitted its own and foreign journalists and medical personnel to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge”.
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