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Travel grinds to a halt, plants close, as virus takes hold

NEW YORK (AP) — The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus worldwide surpassed 200,000 for the first time Wednesday and the damage being seeded in the global economy is growing more clear. Furloughs and job cuts, from dog walkers, to oilfield workers, have begun. Governments around the world are pushing drastic countermeasures to help workers, particularly those who live paycheck to paycheck.

Here are some developments Wednesday affecting various levels of the economy, businesses and workers:

MARKETS ROILING: U.S. futures fell hard enough before the opening bell Wednesday that trading was halted, then at the opening bell, the Dow tumbled more than 1,000 points. A barrel of crude can be had for less than $24, nearing prices nearly two decades ago. Long-term government bonds, considered among the safest of places to park money, were discarded. So was gold, despite a U.S. rescue package that could approach $1 trillion.

Markets tumbled in London and Frankfurt, Shanghai and Tokyo. Technology, manufacturing, banks, as well as retail and leisure sectors, are being hammered. Shares of Boeing, a global titan of manufacturing, plunged 19%. It’s lost more than 60% of its value in the past month.

The CBOE Volatility Index, Wall Street’s fear gauge, appears to have broken from its tether.

TROUBLE TO COME: The U.N.’s International Labor Organization estimates that fallout from the virus outbreak could cause nearly 25 million job losses worldwide and drain up to $3.4 trillion worth of income by the end of this year. The Geneva-based agency said “an internationally coordinated policy response” could help mitigate such losses through worker protections, fiscal stimulus, and support for jobs and wages.

To that end: The U.S. Senate turned to a House-passed coronavirus response bill Wednesday, even as lawmakers and the Trump administration worked behind the scenes to fashion a separate massive federal effort to speed emergency checks to Americans, relief to businesses and additional emergency funding for federal agencies.

ENERGY FADES: Energy prices are crashing as they haven’t since the last financial downturn. U.S. crude tumbled more than 13%, to less than $24 a barrel. The last time oil was so cheap, the first cell phone with a built in camera was released in the U.S. On Wednesday, Halliburton furloughed 3,500 workers in Houston for 60 days. Those workers will work every other week and maintain benefits.

Oil companies including Exxon Mobil, a company that lays out spending plans a decade ahead, have said they will be slashing capital expenditures.

SUPPLY DEMANDED: Sales in almost every sector of the economy has vanished, but not in those selling or producing toilet paper, or canned or packaged foods. Social distancing is evident almost everywhere save for grocery store lines. Shares of Campbell’s Soup Co., which had been on a years-long decline, are hot. The stock has surged 7% in a month. Hormel is up 17% this week. Also in demand are Walmart and Target, along with Kroger, some of the largest grocers in the U.S.

RESPECTING BORDERS: The U.S. and Canada agreed to close their shared border to nonessential travel and the Trump administration is considering a plan to turn back all people who cross the border illegally from Mexico.

Puerto Rico’s governor asked the Federal Aviation Administration to temporarily halt all commercial passenger flights to and from the U.S. territory for two weeks.

The European Union says it’s trying to help repatriate around 80,000 citizens stuck outside Europe, but that it faces huge logistical challenges.

GLOBAL COORDINATION: The leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies may hold a virtual meeting next week about advancing a coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic. Saudi Arabia, which currently leads the G20 presidency, said it is communicating with countries to convene the virtual meeting of leaders.

The kingdom said in a statement Wednesday that the Group of 20 countries will act in any way deemed necessary to alleviate the impact of the pandemic and will put forward a coordinated set of policies to protect people and safeguard the global economy.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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