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Coronavirus: World markets plunge as oil price war adds to fears: The Morning Rundown

Some 16 million people in Italy are under quarantine after the government announced a lockdown in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Image: Empty streets around the Via Corsico in Milan, Italy
Empty streets in Milan after Italy announced sweeping quarantine measures in the fight against coronavirus. Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images

Good morning, NBC News readers.

As the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. passes 500 and Italy puts millions of people under quarantine to contain the virus, now there is a new worry: plunging oil prices.

Here's what we're watching this Monday morning.

World markets plunge as oil price war adds to coronavirus stress

We asked NBC News Business Correspondent Ali Velshi to explain what's behind the wild market plunge over the weekend. Here's what he sent in:

Markets have been roiled daily for the past few weeks and there have been different reasons for many of the swings.

Here’s a new one: Oil.

There are two main types of oil that trade in the world: international Brent crude from the North Sea and U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude.

Unlike stock markets, which have set trading hours and take weekends off, oil trades all the time in different parts of the world.

On Sunday, international benchmark Brent crude futures plummeted 30 percent to $32.05 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude dropped 27 percent to $30.00 per barrel.

This is the lowest price for oil in four years, and the biggest single-day drop in oil since 1991, during the Gulf War.

The current issue with oil is that a reduction in activity because of coronavirus has caused fewer planes to fly, fewer ships to sail, fewer people to drive and fewer factories to heat. Demand for oil has plummeted.

The only way to offset falling demand is to cut supply. And, on theory, much of the world’s oil is produced by a cartel, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), so the cartel can make a deal for its member countries to cut production, right?

Well an attempt at doing that by OPEC failed, causing Saudi Arabia to slash its prices as it reportedly gets set to ramp up production. Now an actual price cutting war has begun.

The good news is that this isn’t an accident. Oil prices are down because oil producing companies are increasing demand, rather than decreasing demand when they should be.

The other good news is that most of us consume oil, and it’s going to get a lot cheaper (and that means gas at the pump, too).

The bad news is that a sharp drop in the price of oil, due to the lack of demand, is often the canary in the recession coal mine.

Dr. Torres: Look out for shortages of medical supplies

As we start the week, we asked Dr. John Torres, NBC News Medical Correspondent, what his biggest concern is in the fight to contain the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19. Here's what he sent in:

Although many Americans are worried about a lack of coronavirus tests in the U.S., shortages of medical supplies in the Seattle area is so critical health care workers are forced to limit use of masks and other protective gear as they help suspected cases and infected patients, the Seattle Times reports.

This regional crisis could become a reality for health care systems in other parts of the country as more coronavirus cases are confirmed.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should continue to help alleviate medical supply shortages as much as possible in the upcoming weeks.

Two lawmakers self-quarantine as coronavirus anxiety hits an aging Congress

Members of Congress are becoming increasingly anxious about coronavirus, and there is growing pressure on leadership to take steps to protect lawmakers.

The idea of potentially recessing Congress for a few weeks has been floated, Democratic congressional sources said, after two members of Congress announced they are self-quarantining.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said he will close his office in Washington and will self-quarantine at home in Arizona for 14 days after he came into "extended" contact with a person who is hospitalized with COVID-19.

They came into contact at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Gosar said.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, announced late Sunday that he will stay home in Texas this week because he had a brief interaction with a person attending CPAC who has tested positive.

Gosar and Cruz said they were experiencing no symptoms but were acting out of caution.

Meantime, down the street at the White House, the mixed messages on coronavirus is sparking internal frustration.

White House officials are growing increasingly frustrated at what they see as President Donald Trump's consistent bids to downplay the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, in contrast to the messages coming from top public health officials.

Those mixed signals were on display Sunday as the top infectious disease doctor at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned the elderly and medically vulnerable to avoid large crowds and long trips or cruises.

But the message Sunday morning from Trump on Twitter was praise for his administration's response, which he called a "perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan."

The president also told reporters Saturday night that he wouldn't be postponing his political rallies, which can attract upward of 15,000 attendees.

Get all the latest updates on the global outbreak in our live blog.

And see maps of where the virus has spread in the U.S. and internationally.

Millions locked down in Italy after sweeping quarantine announced

In Italy, some 16 million people have been placed under lockdown by the country's government as it took drastic measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The government made the announcement Sunday, after Italy saw its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since an outbreak erupted there last month.

More than 300 people have died from COVID-19 in Italy, and as of Monday more than 7,000 people have been diagnosed with the respiratory illness.

The edict left Milan, a city of 1.2 million, facing a new phase in the crisis with supermarket staff wearing masks and people told to stand at least three feet away from one another.

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THINK about it

Want to know how NOT to deal with coronavirus? Take a look at Hollywood's pandemic movies.

Quote of the day

"Say no large crowds, no long trips. And above all, don't get on a cruise ship."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, offering his advice to the elderly during the coronavirus outbreak on NBC's "Meet the Press."

One fun thing

ICYMI: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren helped open "Saturday Night Live," just days after ending her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination by making a cameo appearance as herself.

"I'm doing just fine," Warren tells the host of Fox News' "The Ingraham Angle," Laura Ingraham, played by Kate McKinnon.

"My friends and family have been so supportive. They've been calling non-stop asking are you OK, what do you need, were you electable?'"

We apologize, this video has expired.

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Thanks, Petra