(BBC) – Global stock markets plunged today after a rise in coronavirus cases renewed fears of an economic slowdown.

The three main indexes in the US have fallen by about 3 per cent, while the UK’s FTSE 100 share index closed 3-point-3 per cent lower, the sharpest drop since January 2016.

In Italy, which has seen Europe’s worst outbreak of the virus, Milan’s stock market plunged nearly 6 per cent.

In contrast, the price of gold, which is considered less risky, hit its highest level in seven years.

Gold prices climbed more than 2 per cent today, hitting 1 thousand 6 hundred and 88 dollars an ounce at one point – the highest level since January 2013 – before retreating to 1 thousand 6 hundred and 73 dollars.

The moves came as the outbreak continued to spread outside of China, with Iran, South Korea and Italy reporting a surge in cases.

About 77 thousand people in China, where the virus emerged last year, have been infected and nearly 2 thousand 600 have died.

More than 1,200 cases have been confirmed in about 30 other countries and there have been more than 20 deaths.