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Coronavirus update: US hammers out stimulus as fears grow over 'astronomical' infection rates

Anjalee Khemlani
Senior Reporter

After warnings Monday from the World Health Organization that the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating and will get worse, as “astronomical” rates of new U.S. cases raised alarms, Washington put the final touches on a $6 trillion stimulus package to offset a dramatic drop in growth.

Across the world, more than 400,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 — with both Europe and America accounting for 85% of the new cases, according to WHO officials. The outbreak also forced the International Olympic Committee to officially postpone the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

While the WHO’s director general said there was still time to change the trajectory, he noted the growth rate was accelerating. It took 67 days from the first cases to hit 100,000 — but the subsequent 100,000 increases have occurred far more rapidly.

The outbreak continues to swamp Italy, which is now grappling with 60,000 infections and a death toll that recently surpassed China’s, where the coronavirus first reared its head. The U.K. saw its caseload surge to more than 8,000, just as Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a countrywide lockdown, and France reported that its infections have topped 22,000 on over 1,000 deaths.

Over a dozen U.S. states are directing citizens to stay indoors, and countless businesses and public spaces shut down, as infections continue to surge and are now close to 50,000 nationwide— a result of increased testing results being reported.

The number of coronavirus diagnoses in the U.S. as of Tuesday.

In New York — where a surge in new cases in New York City has made the state the worst-hit in the nation — Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for stricter enforcement of state-wide social distancing measures, especially in the city.

“We haven’t flattened the curve, and the curve is actually increasing,” Cuomo said Tuesday, calling the rates of new diagnoses “astronomical” — even as President Donald Trump hints at re-starting the economy within a matter of weeks. Calls are growing for the president to order a nationwide lockdown, an outcome he’s resisted as the economic toll mounts.

“We’ve closed businesses, we’ve reduced street density, and we’ve increased testing to the highest level in the country,” Cuomo added, issuing a stark warning that the state could be overwhelmed within two to three weeks.

“No one is testing more than we are testing. So in many ways, we have exhausted every option available to us,” the governor said. “The apex is higher than we thought and the apex is sooner than we thought, that is a bad combination of facts.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House task force, said Tuesday that the country has ramped up testing in the last eight days, completing more than 300,000 tests in that time. Of those cases testing positive, the rate in New York is five times the rest of the country.

Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert in the country, said that while there was still need to implement strict restrictions on movement— especially in New York, Florida and other hard-hit areas— it is possible that parts of the country are relieved sooner than others.

‘Profound ramifications’

Stocks surged Tuesday, offsetting the prior day’s steep losses as market participants anxiously awaited further fiscal stimulus measures from policymakers to combat the pandemic, which has brought the economy to a screeching halt.

The shutdown of major cities is expected to batter a previously hot U.S. jobs market. In a research note to clients on Tuesday, Deutsche Bank said that “an economic shock of this magnitude has the potential to have profound ramifications for the labour markets on both sides of the Atlantic.”

With activity in both Europe and the U.S. all but frozen, Deutsche added that “such output losses could mean job losses potentially in excess of 15 million in the US and possibly approaching that number in Europe” — though those stunning losses may be helped by the vast amounts of fiscal and monetary stimulus being planned.

However, the U.S.’s shutdown is being exacerbated by a lack of widespread testing, and critical supplies needed to manage the rising caseload.

Ford (F), 3M (MMM) and General Electric (GE) joined other companies in announcing a partnership to pivot and produce personal protective equipment for health workers, including face shields, respirators and ventilators. The timeline for ventilators was less certain, but Ford said it is using car parts for air flow, such as those used in an F-150, for the equipment.

Additionally, New York has also been aggressive in testing potential treatments, starting trials of the malaria pill, hydroxychloroquine. However, the drug has been a point of controversy, with health experts waiting for a clinical trial to prove its efficacy while Trump has promoted the drug as a potential game changer.

AbbVie reported a failure in its clinical trial Tuesday for a drug that could have been used as a treatment for the coronavirus. Meanwhile, Gilead Sciences received orphan disease designation for its remdesivir— which is expected to produce positive results by next month.

Some states have taken to limiting prescriptions, as reports of hoarding of the drug and off-label use increase, shorting the supply for individuals who is it to treat arthritis or lupus.

Cuomo also said he is looking to increase the needed bed capacity from the current 53,000 to more than 140,000. The 1,000-bed alternative sites, like the Javits conference center, will not be enough. He has been reaching out to hotels to use rooms and state universities to use dorm rooms.


Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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