Shock Trump ban on travel from Europe as China says virus has peaked

WASHINGTON DC, USA (UPDATED) – US President Donald Trump announced a shock 30-day ban on travel from mainland Europe over the coronavirus pandemic that has sparked unprecedented lockdowns, widespread panic and another financial market meltdown Thursday, March 12.

The announcement came as China, where the outbreak that first emerged in December, showed a dramatic drop in new cases and claimed "the peak" of the epidemic had passed.

The virus has so far infected more than 127,000 people globally and killed over 4,600, according to an Agence France-Presse tally.

The World Health Organization has classified the outbreak as a pandemic, but its chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus assured the outbreak was "controllable," even as cases and fatalities surged in Iran and Spain. 

Trump's unexpected move – which excludes the United Kingdom and Ireland – pummelled stock markets as traders fretted about the economic impact of the outbreak that is on a seemingly relentless march across the planet.

European Union chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel swiftly rebuked Washington's "unilateral action," calling for cooperation to fight the pandemic.

Trump, who has been criticized for his response to the outbreak in the US, blamed the EU for a lackluster response to the virus. 

"This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history," he said.

Europe is struggling to keep a lid on the virus, which has killed nearly 950 people and infected more than 22,000 on the continent, with Spain registering nearly 3,000 cases and 84 deaths Thursday.

Italy is in the grip of a lockdown never before seen in peacetime, shutting all stores except pharmacies and food shops in a move that has emptied world-famous tourist sites in Rome, Venice and Florence.

Some people in Italy are struggling with the restrictions.

"Bloody coronavirus, now we're even denied our coffee? What kind of world are we living in?" lamented Roberto Fichera, a retired man in his 80s, on finding his favorite bar closed near the Colosseum in Rome.

Other European nations have rolled out a host of measures to control the virus, with Ireland becoming the latest country to close schools and ban gatherings after reporting its first death on Wednesday, March 11.

'Sell, sell, sell'

Following similar stimulus measures taken globally, Trump announced steps aimed at inoculating the world's top economy from the pandemic, including deferring tax payments for some individuals and businesses – a move he said amounted to $200 billion in liquidity.

Even after the White House clarified that the Trump travel ban did not apply to goods or cargo, the markets still took fright.

"Travel restrictions equal slower global economic activity, so if you need any more coaxing to sell, sell, sell after a massively negative signal from overnight trading in US markets it just fell in your lap," said AxiCorp's Stephen Innes.

The carnage on stock markets spread to Europe, with London, Frankfurt and Paris all losing almost 6% approaching the half-way mark.

The European Central Bank on Thursday unveiled fresh stimulus measures in bid to ease the economic fallout from the worsening coronavirus crisis.

China 'peak'

As the crisis deepened in Europe, China appeared to be making headway against the outbreak, which has infected and killed more people in the country than anywhere else in the world.

Another 11 people died in China on Thursday, bringing their toll to 3,169 deaths – but it was the lowest daily increase since late January.

In outbreak epicenter Wuhan, just 8 new cases were recorded on Thursday, the first time it has been in single figures since since figures started to be reported in January.

"The peak of the epidemic in China has passed," said National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng.

WHO chief Tedros also sounded a warning, urging countries not to give up the fight to stop the virus spreading.

"We are deeply concerned that some countries are not approaching this threat with the level of political commitment needed to control it," he said in Geneva Thursday.

"The idea that countries should shift from containment to mitigation is wrong and dangerous."

Hotspots have rapidly emerged elsewhere including in South Korea and Iran, which announced 75 new deaths on Thursday bringing the total to 429 with more than 10,000 infections.

Hanks infected

Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks announced Thursday that he and his wife Rita Wilson had tested positive for the virus, joining the ranks of politicians and sports stars that have come down with the infection.

The Hollywood pair were in isolation in a hospital in Australia, where Hanks was shooting a film.

"To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for the coronavirus, and were found to be positive," said the 63-year-old actor.

The pandemic also continued to disrupt cultural and sporting events.

The NBA on Wednesday suspended the season after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the virus, while spectators were banned from Ancient Olympia in Greece to witness the lighting of the Olympic flame for the 2020 Tokyo Games, which are due to begin in July.

Spain suspended top flight football matches for two weeks as Real Madrid went into quarantine.

This weekend's opening Formula One race in Melbourne is still on although McLaren have withdrawn after a team member tested positive. – Rappler.com