FTSE 100 falls as coronavirus reaches UK

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Passengers wearing protective masks at London's Heathrow Airport amid the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA via AP

Stocks fell in London on Friday as authorities confirmed that the coronavirus had reached the UK.

The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) index was down by more than 1% in London at 3pm, hours after the country’s chief medical officer said that two patients were being treated by the National Health Service in England.

The losses were sharper than those experienced in Europe, where stocks fell in the wake of weaker-than-expected eurozone growth data.

“The patients are receiving specialist NHS care, and we are using tried and tested infection control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus,” said professor Chris Whitty.

On Friday afternoon, a plane carrying as 83 British people arrived back from a repatriation flight from Wuhan, the Chinese region at the heart of the outbreak.

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Investors continue to assess the impact of coronavirus, with the total number of confirmed cases of the virus expected to hit 10,000 on Friday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday declared the outbreak to be a global health emergency.

Whitty said the UK was working closely with the WHO and international counterparts “to ensure we are ready for all eventualities.”

READ MORE: Two members of same family being treated for infection in Newcastle

The full economic consequences of the spread of the virus are unclear, however, and some analysts suggested that the WHO declaration could stoke fears about the disease and the risks posed to markets.

While the declaration signals that the organisation views the virus as a serious global threat, it also means that increased resources will now be focused on containing the outbreak.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index (^STOXX) was down by more than 0.7%, reversing marginal gains in early trading.

Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was down by more than 0.9%, while France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) declined by more than 0.8%.

The declines in Europe followed a mixed trading session in Asia, where stocks sputtered after an initial rally on Friday. The Hang Seng (^HSI) was 0.37% down at market close. But while Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) erased over half of its earlier gains, it ended the day almost 1% in the green.

Meanwhile, US stocks also fell. The S&P 500 (^GSPC) was down by 0.9% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI) was down over 1.1%. The Nasdaq (^IXIC) was down by more than 0.7%.

“A day of bad data, and more alarming headlines regarding the coronavirus outbreak, eroded whatever attempt the markets had made to rebound early on,” said Conor Campbell, a financial analyst at Spreadex.

“The concern for investors is that the coronavirus isn’t going to go away overnight. And while they’ve tried their hardest at points to ignore the headlines — just look at the multiple attempts at quickly-aborted rebounds — the outbreak, combined with a bad round of data, leaves them in a difficult position heading into February.”

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The US state department on Thursday night issued a travel warning, telling American citizens not to travel to China.

Its “red” travel advisory warning is reserved for dangerous situations.

“Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice,” the state department warned.

“Commercial carriers have reduced or suspended routes to and from China.”

More than 200 people have died from the virus thus far, while around 9,800 infections have been confirmed.