U.S. Cases Increase 4.4%; Gilead Drug Gets FDA Nod: Virus Update
Funeral directors move a cremation box into a room at a funeral home in the Queens borough of New York, U.S. (Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg)

U.S. Cases Increase 4.4%; Gilead Drug Gets FDA Nod: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) -- Gilead Sciences Inc.’s antiviral drug remdesivir was cleared by U.S. regulators for emergency use in Covid-19 patients, becoming the first medication backed by early clinical data to be made available to fight the novel coronavirus.

Florida plans to reopen its state parks on May 4 as part of a broader move to start relaxing controls. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state’s schools would remain closed for the remainder of the academic year.

The coronavirus outbreak may last for two years and won’t be controlled until about two-thirds of the world’s population is immune, a group of experts said in a report. Moderna Inc., which is developing experimental vaccines, said it had entered an agreement aimed at manufacturing a billion doses a year.

Key Developments

  • Virus Tracker: global cases top 3.3 million; deaths 237,000
  • Gilead caught between making a profit and treating the world
  • Kushner airlift moves millions of marks with details secret
  • Malaysia eases curbs; Australia to consider altering measures
  • Singapore to expand health-care facilities for foreign workers

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U.S. Cases Increase 4.4%; Gilead Drug Gets FDA Nod: Virus Update

Fauci Blocked From Testifying (6:20 a.m. HK)

The Trump administration has barred Anthony Fauci, the scientist who’s leading the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, from testifying before a congressional hearing next Wednesday.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had been sought as a witness for a House Appropriations Committee subcommittee that was looking into the U.S. response to the pandemic, according to Evan Hollander, a committee spokesman.

“We have been informed by an administration official that the White House has blocked Dr. Fauci from testifying,” Hollander said on Friday afternoon.

“While the Trump administration continues its whole-of-government response to Covid-19, including safely opening up America again and expediting vaccine development, it is counter-productive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at congressional hearings,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. “We are committed to working with Congress to offer testimony at the appropriate time.”

California Closing In on Reopening Plans (4:30 p.m. NY)

Governor Gavin Newsom said he may announce plans toward reopening California’s economy -- the fifth-largest in the world -- as soon as next week.

“We’re getting very, very close to making some announcements that I think will be very meaningful to people in the retail sector, hospitality sector,” Newsom said at his daily briefing. He added that restaurants would also be included in changes, but cautioned: “I don’t want to overpromise.”

The state has also made progress in the key issue of testing, with Newsom saying California is now averaging more than 25,000 tests per day, which was its goal for the end of April. Still, he’s been cautious, closing some Southern California beaches Thursday after images of beachgoers seeming to show many in close proximity made the rounds.

U.S. Cases Rise to 1.09 Million (4 p.m. NY)

U.S. cases rose 4.4% from the day before to 1.09 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. That was higher than Thursday’s growth rate of 1.2% and above the past week’s average daily increase of 2.9%. Deaths rose 4.8% to 64,069.

  • Minnesota saw the biggest one-day rise in cases with a 23% jump to 5,730. South Dakota deaths surged by the most, up 62% to 21, according to the Johns Hopkins and Bloomberg News data.
  • Cases in New York rose 2.9% while deaths rose 2.1%, according to the Johns Hopkins and Bloomberg News data.
  • Florida reported 34,728 cases on Friday, up 3.1% from a day earlier, according to the state’s health department. Deaths rose 3.6% to 1,314.
  • Cases in Texas rose 4.1% to 29,229, its fourth consecutive daily increase, according to state health department figures. Another 34 people died, bringing total fatalities to 816.
  • California crossed two milestones: more than 50,000 infections and 2,000 deaths. Cases rose 3.1% and deaths were up 4.6%, the state government reported. Still, Governor Gavin Newsom said there has been stabilization, with hospitalizations down 2%.

Gilead Drug Cleared by FDA (3:50 p.m. NY)

Gilead Sciences Inc.’s experimental antiviral drug has been cleared by U.S. regulators for emergency use in Covid-19 patients, President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House Friday.

The drug, remdesivir, has shown positive results in helping hospitalized patients recover more quickly. The Food and Drug Administration cleared the drug under an emergency use authorization, a shortcut step by which the agency can bring products to market without full data on their safety and efficacy.

Barr Says Time to Roll Back Virus Limits (3:15 p.m. NY)

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said it’s time “to start rolling back” in a measured way restrictions that were put in place to deal with the coronavirus crisis, a signal the Justice Department could consider legal action against officials who resist acting.

“Now that the curve has been flattened, the rate of spread has been slowed, our system has not been overwhelmed and has time to adjust to the situation, it’s time to start rolling back some of these restrictions in an orderly and sensible way,” Barr said Friday in a question-and-answer forum on Twitter.

Ireland to Begin Reopening May 18 (2 p.m. NY)

Ireland will start reopening the economy on May 18, in the first of five phases that will run through mid-August, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadka said in an address to the nation.

Construction and other outdoor workers will return to work in about three weeks, with further openings depending on the nation’s progress in the fight against the coronavirus. Schools and colleges will reopen by September and October, he said.

In the short term, people will be allowed exercise 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from home, up from 2 kilometers, and people older than 70 will no longer be told to stay home.

“The curve has plateaued, but we have not yet won this fight,” Varadka said. “We have two more weeks of tight restrictions to weaken the virus further and make sure it doesn’t make a comeback when we begin to interact with each other.”

Texas Has Fourth Day of Rising New Cases (1:33 p.m. NY)

Texas reported its fourth consecutive increase in the daily count of new virus cases as the state made its first big move to reopen businesses. The total tally of confirmed Covid-19 victims rose 4.1% to 29,229. Another 34 people died, down from the record 50 of the day before, bringing total fatalities to 816.

Friday is the first day of Governor Greg Abbott’s two-phase reopening plan, in which restaurants are allowed to accept customers for dine-in service up to 25% of their maximum capacity, and other stores and services can resume. As the state tries to get back to normal operations, Abbott said all Texans should do their part to protect the vulnerable. Face masks in public spaces are encouraged, but not mandatory.

New Jersey Deaths Top N.Y. (1:30 p.m. NY)

New Jersey reported an additional 310 deaths, the second straight day that its total was higher than New York’s.

“It’s a staggering toll,” Governor Phil Murphy said at his Friday press briefing.

The state has now lost 7,538 residents from Covid-19. New York deaths rose by 289 to 18,587, but the increase was by less for a sixth straight day.

Thousands of Meat Workers Sickened: CDC (1:06 p.m. NY)

There were 20 deaths among U.S. meat-plant workers for the coronavirus, and the number of employees diagnosed with the disease topped 4,900, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus spread to 115 meat plants across 19 states, the CDC said in a report Friday, citing data covering April 9‒27.

Experts, unions and advocacy groups have warned that meat companies failed to adequately protect workers as the virus spread quickly and then forced shutdowns of plants. Challenges in stopping infections included difficulties in allowing for adequate social distancing and implementing disinfection, the CDC said.

Italy Sees Fewer New Deaths (1 p.m. NY)

Italy saw the number of new deaths from the coronavirus decline as Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte fights off criticism of his administration and considers a further easing of lockdown measures.

Figures from civil protection authorities showed there were 1,965 new cases for the 24-hour period, compared with 1,872 a day earlier. There were 269 new deaths from the virus, compared with 285 on Thursday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 28,236. Confirmed cases now total 207,428.

U.K. Provides 122,347 Tests (12:30 p.m. NY)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the U.K. had met its target of providing more than 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April as it sought to build capacity to tackle the next stage of the outbreak.

“We’ve met our goal,” Hancock said at the daily Downing Street coronavirus press conference on Friday.

Hancock set the target for Covid-19 tests at a time when Boris Johnson’s government was under fire over its response to the pandemic, especially after it abandoned community testing in the middle of March -- a decision critics have said may have contributed to the rapid spread of the disease in the following weeks.

Florida to Reopen State Parks (11:49 a.m. NY)

Florida plans to reopen its state parks on May 4 as part of a broader move to start relaxing controls in the state next week.

Speaking Friday in Jacksonville, Governor Ron DeSantis said he wanted to encourage Floridians to get outdoors and stay fit.

“The parks are an important part of quality of life,” DeSantis said.

Appearing with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, DeSantis praised the reopening of northeast Florida beaches two weeks ago, a move that was criticized by some as coming too soon.

Earlier this week, DeSantis said he would reopen restaurants and retail on Monday in most parts of the state, while keeping establishments such as movie theaters and bars closed. Still, DeSantis is making an exception to maintain stay-home measures in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, the three most populous and the hardest-hit by the virus.

Florida reported 34,728 cases on Friday, up 3.1% from a day earlier. Deaths among residents reached 1,314, an increase of 3.6%.

De Blasio: Virus Progress Not Enough to Reopen (10:45 a.m. NY)

New York City is making progress fighting the outbreak but not enough to warrant reopening yet, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Daily hospital admissions for Covid-19 have fallen to about 136 as of April 29, from a high of 850 a month earlier. The number of intensive-care patients in public hospitals has dropped to 704 from a high of 887.

Those hospitals are “still experiencing a lot of strain,” de Blasio said Friday at a press briefing. “We need to get to the day when there are no or almost no New Yorkers fighting for their lives.”

Airlines Require Face Masks on Flights (10:40 a.m. NY)

Delta Air Lines Inc., American Airlines Group Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. will start requiring face masks this month, establishing a new standard as the industry fights to win back customers during a pandemic. The larger carriers are following JetBlue Airways Corp., which said April 27 that travelers would have to cover their nose and mouth throughout trips starting May 4.

The new rules are meant to soothe customer concerns that aircraft cabins foster the spread of Covid-19, with some of the airlines citing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in implementing the change. The coverings could help prevent anyone who may be unknowingly infected from spreading the new coronavirus in a confined space such as the inside of a plane.

Gilead Explores Outpatient Version of Drug (10:30 a.m. NY)

Gilead Sciences Inc. is exploring ways to make its experimental Covid-19 medicine more broadly available, potentially treating patients in the outpatient setting, the company’s chief executive officer said Friday.

Preliminary data released this week by the National Institutes of Health showed promising signs that remdesivir can speed up the recovery time for Covid-19 patients. But that study only tested the drug on the patients with a severe form of the disease, who received a daily infusion over 10 days. Daniel O’Day, Gilead’s CEO, said on NBC the company is looking at different ways of administering the medicine to make it available to more patients.

University of Texas Links to China Lab Probed: WSJ (10:02 a.m. NY)

The Education Department has asked the University of Texas System to provide documentation of its dealings with the Chinese laboratory U.S. officials are investigating as a potential source of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The request for records of gifts or contracts from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and its researcher Shi Zhengli, known for her work on bats, is part of a broader department investigation into possible faulty financial disclosures of foreign money by the Texas group of universities, the newspaper reported Friday.

The Education Department’s letter, reviewed by the Journal, also asks the UT System to share documents regarding potential ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party and some two dozen Chinese universities and companies, including Huawei Technologies Co. and a unit of China National Petroleum Corp.

Italy PM Hints at Faster Reopening (8:02 a.m. NY)

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took to Facebook to publicly say sorry to Italians for delays to their financial aid and said he was open to a further easing of lockdown measures. He tried to reassure citizens that businesses may be able to open earlier than forecast if rules are followed and the contagion curve declines.

He also personally apologized “on behalf of the government” for bureaucratic delays of pledged assistance to workers and small businesses adding that new measures are in the pipeline and will be “stronger, faster, more direct.”

Gilead CEO Promises to Make Remdesivir Affordable (8 a.m. NY)

“We’re all focused on making sure we make this accessible and affordable to patients around the globe. That’s what’s going to drive us, and we take our responsibility very seriously,” Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day said on NBC’s Today Show. Gilead has gone from 5,000 remdesivir treatment courses to 100,000 and expects to have millions available by the end of the year, he said.

The company is exploring ways to make remdesivir, which is currently administered intravenously for the sickest patients, available even earlier in the illness through an injection or even an oral inhaler that can be taken outside of hospital.

Dutch Cases, Deaths Stable (7:58 a.m. NY)

The Netherlands reported 98 new fatalities, slightly above the seven-day average. The 2% increase brings the total number of fatalities to 4,893. Confirmed cases rose 1% to 39,791.

Separately, the Dutch statistics office indicated that overall mortality is decreasing for the third consecutive week, albeit at a slower pace than the previous week. About 4,000 people died in the week ending April 26, it said, which is still about 30% above the average mortality seen in the first 10 weeks of 2020.

U.K. Ready to Discuss State Aid With Individual Airlines (7:27 a.m. NY)

The government is willing to discuss “bespoke” support for individual aviation companies “as a last resort,” spokesman James Slack said. Support will be discussed once existing coronavirus support measures are exhausted, he said.

Earlier, Ryanair Holdings Plc said it will challenge some 30 billion euros ($33 billion) in state aid being doled out to keep its European competitors afloat during the pandemic. “The people who went in weakest, which is the legacy airlines, Air France, Alitalia, Lufthansa, have either been nationalized or are receiving extraordinary volumes of state aid,” Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary said.

About 7.3% of U.S. Mortgages Enter Forbearance (7 a.m. NY)

About 7.3% of U.S. mortgages entered forbearance plans in April, providing temporary relief to more than 3.8 million borrowers who have lost income during the pandemic. The loans have $841 billion in unpaid principal balance, up almost 12% from a week earlier, according to figures released Friday by Black Knight Inc., a mortgage information service based in Jacksonville, Florida.

Requests for payment relief are expected to soar as businesses remain shuttered to control the spread of the deadly virus and job losses mount. More than 30 million U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits in the past six weeks.

Tanzania Opposition Won’t Go to Parliament (6:36 a.m. NY)

Tanzania’s biggest opposition party asked its members to stop attending parliament sessions after a minister became the third lawmaker to die in 11 days. The authorities haven’t given information on causes of the deaths, prompting speculation after Covid-19 cases in the country jumped to 480 and 16 deaths in one month.

Chevron Cuts Spending; Clorox Boosts Outlook (6:20 a.m. NY)

Chevron is slashing capital spending for the second time in five weeks, accelerating supply curbs and warning that profits will suffer as the oil-industry spiral deepens. Apollo Global Management’s private equity portfolio plunged 22%, while its credit and real asset funds faced smaller declines. The firm now faces the prospect of having to hand back earlier profits from several of its funds, a process known as clawbacks.

Clorox organic sales grew most since the H1N1 outbreak, driven by a surge in its cleaning unit as customers stocked up on disinfecting wipes and sprays. Cosmetics maker Estee Lauder is producing hand sanitizer at plants in Europe and the U.S., and most stores are closed. The company is observing changes in consumer behavior post-Covid-19, saying that “the demand for skin care and hair care products has been more resilient than the demand for makeup and fragrance.”

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