Saudi Arabia closed off air and sea travel to 14 countries affected by the new coronavirus Monday as Mideast stock markets tumbled over fears about the widening outbreak's effect on the global economy.
The state oil giant Saudi Aramco led the financial losses, dropping by 10% on Riyadh's Tadawul stock exchange and forcing a halt to Aramco's trading.
In the Mideast, there have been over 7,600 confirmed cases, with the vast majority in hard-hit Iran. The country's health ministry said Monday the new virus killed another 43 people, pushing the death toll to 237 amid 7,161 confirmed cases. Experts worry Iran may be under reporting its cases.
Worldwide, there are over 110,000 confirmed cases of the new virus, with more than 3,800 deaths attributed to it. The number of people who have recovered is about 62,000.
The drop in the markets came as global oil prices suffered their worst losses since the start of the 1991 Gulf War. Other Mideast markets fell as well as the new coronavirus has affected global energy prices and OPEC failed to make a production cut deal with Russia last week.
The new virus has caused major economic disruptions, including in global aviation, which has helped slow demand for oil. An OPEC meeting with Russia last week failed to see countries agree to a production cut. In response, Saudi Arabia has warned it will increase its production and slash its own prices to claw back market share.
That sent oil prices into a free fall, losing some 25 percent of their value. Mideast stock markets followed suit.
The Tadawul fell over seven percent, with investors particularly selling their stock in Saudi Aramco, formally known as the Saudi Arabian Oil Co. The stock closed at 27 riyals a share (US$7.19), giving the company a valuation of US$1.4 trillion. The company had reached US$2 trillion in early days of trading in December.
The oil company offered only a sliver of its value, 1.7 percent, on the exchange to help fund Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's redevelopment plans for the kingdom. The rest remains state owned.
Qatar's stock market fell over nine percent. The Boursa Kuwait, the Dubai Financial Market and the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange dropped by over eight percent. Egypt's stock market benchmark index, the EGX 30, fell over seven percent. Oman's Muscat Securities Market and the Bahrain Bourse each saw over a five percent loss. The Tehran Stock Exchange in Iran fell 2.7 percent.
Meanwhile, authorities in Egypt’s southern tourist hub of Luxor announced the city would close to tourists Monday until medical experts could examine all hotel guests and cruise ship passengers in the area. Two cruise ships on the Nile River have been quarantined there in recent days.
Egypt’s prime minister announced a temporary ban on large public gatherings and all events involving people’s movement between cities.