Italian stocks plunged in early trade Monday morning, as the euro zone’s third-largest economy grappled with the largest coronavirus outbreak outside of Asia.
European markets screeched lower in early deals with the FTSE MIB index trading 990 points down at 23,808, or 4% lower. Shares of Italian banks fell sharply while the stock of Juventus soccer club was briefly halted after falling 11%.
There are widespread concerns over the spread of the virus in northern Italy; the country now has 152 confirmed cases and four deaths due to the virus as of Monday morning, with a sharp spike in cases over the weekend.
The government has placed around a dozen towns in the north under quarantine with the wealthy regions of Lombardy and Veneto — where the cities of Milan and Venice are located respectively — the focus of the rise in coronavirus cases. The regions make up around 30% of Italy’s economic output, while the majority of the quarantined towns are just south of the financial hub of Milan.
Schools, museums, universities and cinemas have been closed while other public events, including Serie A soccer matches, have been canceled. Milan’s opera house, La Scala, canceled performances and while Giorgio Armani’s fashion show went ahead as part of Milan Fashion Week, no buyers or media were present.
Venice’s world-famous Carnival, which attracts thousands of visitors every year, was due to end on Tuesday but was cut short on Sunday as the government introduced “urgent measures” to contain the virus, including restricting access in and out of affected areas. It’s reported that the measures are affecting around 50,000 inhabitants.
A woman wear a protective mask in Venice, Italy, on February 23, 2020 due to concerns over coronavirus infection. The carnival was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy.
The virus will be another blow to Italy’s already weak economy which is only expected to grow 0.5% in 2020, according to Bank of Italy forecasts made in December. Earlier in February, and before the virus hit the country, the bank warned that the coronavirus could have a significant impact on the Italian economy.
Austria is reportedly considering border controls with Italy, having already suspended train services across the border. On Sunday evening, Austria refused entry to a train coming from Italy after the Italian State Railways informed Austrian train operator OBB that there were two people with fever symptoms on board, Sky News reported. The suspension of train services was later lifted, however.
Meanwhile, concerns over the virus and quarantine measures have prompted panic-buying with Twitter users showing various supermarkets in the north with empty shelves. Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported Monday that latex gloves, hand disinfectant gel and bleach products were in short supply as inhabitants sought to protect themselves.
Italy’s authorities have scrambled to contain the spread of the virus but the head of the country’s Civil Protection Agency, Angelo Borrelli, conceded Sunday that it was still trying to find “patient zero,” the first carrier of the virus in the country.
“We still cannot identify patient zero, so it’s difficult to forecast possible new cases,” Borrelli told a press conference. The World Health Organization is sending a special mission to Italy Tuesday to try to track down more details on the source of the infections.
Residents wait to be given access to shop in a supermarket in small groups of forty people on February 23, 2020 in the small Italian town of Casalpusterlengo.
Christian Lindmeier, spokesperson for the WHO, told CNBC Monday that the organization was worried about the “pockets” of outbreak seen in certain countries like Italy, Iran and South Korea.
“What we have been warning about, or warning against, and what we have been worried about, is exactly what we see now, that some countries across the world see pockets of this virus popping up and everyday life is being disrupted … by something that we don’t yet know what it is exactly, and that is scary,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”
Paolo Gentiloni, European commissioner for the economy and a former prime minister of Italy, told CNBC Sunday that “there is absolutely no reason for panic.”
“There is a reason to have confidence in institutions and Italian authorities. They know the situation. They are taking the good measures. So the European Union is perfectly confident on what the Italians are doing. But I repeat, there is no reason for panic.”