By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
Signs that the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is slowing in parts of Europe cheered financial markets on Monday, although it weighed against news that Japan is about to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo and other areas.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the move could come as soon as Tuesday, but will not include the kind of lockdowns that health experts say are the most effective in containing the illness. Abe also told reporters that his government will launch a 108 trillion yen ($1 trillion) stimulus package to help counter the economic impact of the pandemic, the Associated Press reported.
Japan has 3,654 cases of the virus and 85 fatalities, according to data aggregated by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. That places it far lower down the list than countries in mainland Europe and the U.S., which continues to lead in number of cases.
There was good news from Spain and Italy, the two European hot spots for the disease, with the growth rate and number of fatalities slowing over the weekend. The Spanish government said the number of deaths from the virus has fallen for four straight days, and totaled 637 in the past 24 hours, the lowest in almost two weeks. Italy reported 525 new deaths on Sunday, its lowest daily rate in two weeks. Germany and France also reported a slowing of their death tolls.
There are now 1.3 million cases of COVID-19 globally and at least 72,638 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins data. Another 273,546 people have recovered.
The U.S. case tally stands at 347,003 with 10,335 fatalities. Another 18,953 people have recovered. New York remains the epicenter with a total of 130,689 cases and at least 4,758 deaths. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the death tally has been flat for two days, a hopeful sign that the curve is flattening, as health experts agree needs to happen to contain the disease and ease the burden on health-care workers and hospitals.
Spain has 135,032 cases and 13,169 deaths. That puts it ahead of Italy in number of cases but Italy’s death toll leads the world. Italy has 132,547 cases and 16,523 deaths.
Germany has 101,178 cases, but just 1,612 deaths. France has 93,785 cases and 8,093 deaths. China, where the outbreak was first reported late last year, has 82,665 cases and 3,335 deaths.
President Donald Trump again promoted the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for the virus, even though experts have cautioned that it has not been tested or won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Trump said the U.S. government has stockpiled 29 million hydroxychloroquine pills. He blocked infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci from answering a question about the drug at a Sunday briefing. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has repeatedly said it’s too soon to say if the drug would be effective.
As MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee has reported, the drug is in the early stages of testing in China, France and the U.S. as a treatment for COVID-19. Pharmacists are concerned that prescribing the drug for the virus has created shortages of the medication for patients with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, two indications for which it has been approved.
There are also safety concerns. The Banner Health hospital system, based in Phoenix, said on March 23 that a man in his 60s had died and his wife, also in her 60s, was in critical care after the couple consumed a form of chloroquine phosphate used to clean fish tanks. The drug also has a number of adverse effects, like nausea and changes in mood, and can cause drops in blood sugar. Incorrect doses can cause coma, seizures and death.
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. /zigman2/quotes/205971034/composite JPM +0.57% Chief Executive Jamie Dimon weighed in on the crisis Monday, saying the U.S. wasn’t adequately prepared for a pandemic and urging Americans to roll up their sleeves and work on solving the problems facing the health care system, education, immigration policy and a host of other shortcomings.