‘What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus…’
(Associated Press) Scientists on Wednesday announced the first effective treatment against the coronavirus—an experimental drug that can speed the recovery of COVID-19 patients—in a major medical advance that came as the economic gloom caused by the scourge deepened in the U.S. and Europe.
The U.S. government said it is working to make the antiviral medication remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible.
“What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert. “This will be the standard of care.”
Stocks surged around the world on the news, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining more than 530 points on the day, or over 2%.
California-based biotech company Gilead Sciences and the U.S. government reported that in a major study, remdesivir shortened the time it takes for COVID-19 patients to recover by four days on average—from 15 days to 11. Also, a trend toward fewer deaths was seen among those on the drug, Fauci said.
The study was run by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and involved 1,063 hospitalized coronavirus patients around the world.
An effective treatment could have a profound effect on the outbreak, since a vaccine is probably a year or more away.
Economic damage, meanwhile, is piling up around the world.
The U.S. said its gross domestic product, or output of goods and services, shrank at an annual rate of 4.8% in the January-March period, the sharpest quarterly drop since the global financial meltdown of more than a decade ago.
And the worst is yet to come: The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the GDP of the world’s biggest economy will plunge at a 40% annual rate during the three-month period that ends in June.
The latest figures on people applying for unemployment benefits in the U.S. come out Thursday, with economists estimating perhaps 1 in 6 American workers, or nearly 30 million people, have lost their jobs over the past six weeks.
The U.S. unemployment rate for April will be released at the end of next week, and economists have said it could range as high as 20% — a level last seen during the Depression.
Amid the economic carnage, President Donald Trump was pushing to reopen the country, allowing federal social distancing guidelines to expire Thursday and even saying he plans to travel to Arizona next week.
Trump laid out plans for returning to pre-virus normalcy despite doctors’ warnings that the country will need to embrace extended social distancing and mask-wearing.
Many economists remain skeptical the U.S. economy will bounce back quickly later in the year, noting that the virus could flare up again or consumers and employees might be too worried to return to business as usual.
“The virus has done a lot of damage to the economy, and there is just so much uncertainty now,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.