Anti-virus drug gets boost

  • People wait in line for food assistance due to the coronavirus pandemic in Paterson, N.J., Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) Seth Wenig

  • People in masks to protect against coronavirus, walk past a boarded up storefront along 14th Street in Northwest Washington, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik

  • A couple walks by a row of closed motels, Wednesday, April 29, 2020, in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday announced tentatives plans to allow for lodging, campgrounds and the reopening of bars on July 1. Many businesses have been closed by the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

  • A woman walks her dog past a closed business, Wednesday, April 29, 2020, in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. The U.S. economy shrank at a 4.8% annual rate last quarter as the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the country and began triggering a recession that will end the longest expansion on record.(AP Photo/Tony Dejak) Tony Dejak

  • Gala, 7, speaks with her friend and classmate Oliver, 6, as they jump on the wall on their courtyard in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, April 29, 2020 as the lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus continues. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) Emilio Morenatti

  • A man wears a face mask to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus as he sits on a Metro train, in Paris, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. France continues to be under an extended stay-at-home order until May 11 in an attempt to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) Thibault Camus

  • A staff worker checks the body temperature of a customer before enter in a supermarket in Madrid, Spain, Spain, Wednesday, April 29, 2020 as the lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus continues. Official statistics show that Spain's unemployment rate rose to 14.4% in the first quarter of 2020, reflecting only the partial impact of the new coronavirus pandemic in Spain's job market. Spain's left-wing coalition government is poised to announce Tuesday further steps to ease the... Manu Fernandez

  • Residents from the Alexandra township in Johannesburg gather in a stadium to be tested for COVID-19 Wednesday, April 29, 2020. South Africa will begin a phased easing of its strict lockdown measures on May 1, although confirmed cases of coronavirus continue to increase. ((AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Jerome Delay

  • A passenger walks at an empty domestic terminal of Haneda Airport in Tokyo, at the start of Golden Week holiday Wednesday, April 29, 2020. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expanded a state of emergency to all of Japan from just Tokyo and other urban areas as the virus continues to spread. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko) Eugene Hoshiko

  • A homeless man walks past a mural of Pope Francis, inside a shelter during a government-ordered lockdown to curb the spread of the new coronavirus in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) Natacha Pisarenko

  • Hands Across Middlesex Food Pantry volunteers pack bags of food for their food pantry distribution Monday April 27, 2020, in Locust Hill, Va. The rural food pantry has seen its membership spike in the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic has walloped the economy(AP Photo/Steve Helber) Steve Helber

  • A masked worker walks in view of a 737 jet at a Boeing airplane manufacturing plant Wednesday, April 29, 2020, in Renton, Wash. Boeing says it will cut about 10% of its work force and slow production of planes as it deals with the ongoing grounding of its best-selling plane and the coronavirus pandemic. With air travel falling sharply because of the virus, airlines have delayed orders and deliveries of new planes, reducing Boeing's revenue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Elaine Thompson

  • A man walks on an empty street of Athens, during lockdown measures against the spread of coronavirus on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 .Greek authorities say the use of face masks will be compulsory – on pain of a 150-euro ($163) fine - in public transport and shops from May 4, when the country starts to ease its lockdown restrictions(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) Petros Giannakouris

  • Francis Flores sits inside a shelter she constructed from pieces of cardboard and a sheet, at a makeshift camp of Peruvians who want to return to their provinces, in Lima, Peru, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. Health authorities said that day laborers and informal workers who ended up stuck in the capital because of strict quarantine rules to control the spread of new coronavirus, will be allowed to travel home if they test negative for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) Rodrigo Abd

  • A man wearing a mask holds a hose during a cleaning and disinfection day organized by the Integral Defense Organization, communal council and collective organization at the 23 de Enero neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, April 29, 2020, during a government-imposed quarantine to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix) Matias Delacroix

  • A man walks by a depiction of a medical staff wearing protective equipment, executed in the style of Christ Pantocrator, in Bucharest, Romania, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. The artwork, among others depicting medical staff in the manner of religious icons, created by designer Wanda Hutira, is part of a campaign called Thank You Doctors, meant to raise awareness to the work of medical staff fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Following public pressure by Romania's influential Orthodox church... Vadim Ghirda

Published: 4/29/2020 6:29:17 PM

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 U.S. 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%.

Still, word of the new drug came as the U.S. government reported that American economic output is shriveling in the biggest and fastest collapse since the Depression. The virus has killed over 220,000 people worldwide, including more than 60,000 confirmed deaths in the U.S., and led to lockdowns and other restrictions that have closed factories and other businesses around the globe.

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.

Mario Franco, who worked at a McDonald’s at a rest stop along Interstate 95 in Darien, Connecticut, for 26 years, rising to night manager in charge of the kitchen staff, was laid off in late March. The 50-year-old said he has little savings and now relies on a food bank and union donations.

“They didn’t give us any notice,” he said through an interpreter. “They didn’t tell us about it. Just suddenly the night shift ended and that was it. There was no more work.”

Confirmed infections globally reached about 3.2 million, including 1 million in the U.S., according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The true numbers of deaths and infections are believed to be much higher because of limited testing, differences in counting the dead and concealment by some governments.

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 United Nations’ main labor body predicted the world will lose the equivalent of about 305 million full-time jobs in the second quarter.

It also projected that 1.6 billion workers in the “informal economy,” including those working beyond the reach of the government, “stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.” That is nearly half the global workforce of 3.3 billion people.

In Europe, almost every measure of the economy is in free fall. Figures due to be released Thursday are expected to show a drop of about 4% in the first three months of the year in the eurozone, and an even steeper hit is projected this quarter. Unemployment is expected to rise to about 8% in March.

The figure would be worse if not for massive amounts of government aid to keep millions of workers on payrolls. Government debt is exploding to cover the costs of such relief.

“The lockdowns to contain the COVID-19 pandemic are taking an unprecedented toll on the European economy,” said Florian Hense, an economist at Berenberg Bank.

In Paris, aircraft maker Airbus reported a first-quarter loss of 481 million euros ($515 million), laid off thousands of workers and sought billions in loans to pull through the crisis. U.S.-based rival Boeing said it is cutting 10% of its workforce and reducing the production rate of commercial jets.

Italy’s credit rating was lowered in the first downgrade of a major economy as a result of the crisis. Its rating stands just one level above junk bond status. Italy expects its economy to shrink 8% this year.

Germany’s economy minister said the government is projecting a contraction of about 11% in GDP by the end of the quarter. But he also predicted a sharp recovery in 2021.

Many economists are 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.

In other developments, Britain raised its death toll to more than 26,000 after adding more than 3,800 nursing home deaths that were previously not included.

With the crisis easing in places like Italy, France and Spain, European governments are making adjustments in their transportation networks to try to get their economies running again without setting off a second wave of infections.

In Italy, Milan is putting red stickers on the floor to tell bus passengers how far apart to stand. The Dutch are putting on longer, roomier trains. Berlin and many other cities are opening up more lanes to bicyclists. And in Britain, bus passengers are using the middle or rear doors to reduce the risk to the driver.


Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.


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