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Oct. 20, 2020, 2:38 p.m. EDT

Coronavirus update: Global case tally climbs to 40.6 million and WHO expert urges governments to look to regions that have succeeded in containing spread

‘The success countries in Asia had was their ability…to find the cases and the contacts, and do enough to start breaking the chains of transmission,’ says WHO’s Michael Ryan

By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch

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WHO Health Emergencies Director Michael Ryan, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19 worldwide climbed to 40.6 million on Tuesday, amid continued rises in cases in Europe and the U.S., and a World Health Organization official urged governments to emulate actions taken in those regions that have succeeded in getting the deadly illness under control.

Dr. Michael Ryan, head of emergencies at the WHO, told reporters at a briefing that Asian countries, such as Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Australia, have succeeded in containing the spread in different ways, but share a focus on case detection, case isolation and quarantining of contacts of patients who test positive, and by supporting people in quarantine through the process.

“If you think at any one time in the community transmission environment, between one in 400 and in 500 people may be carrying, may be actively positive for COVID. Imagine that one person as a case and they have 10 contacts. If I quarantine those contacts, it’s 11 people who are affected by the measures, as opposed to a lockdown which is 400 to 500 people affected.

“And the success the countries in Asia had was their ability to find those 11 people, find the cases and the contacts, and do enough to start breaking the chains of transmission — and continue to do that,” he said.

Ryan acknowledged that Asian countries have higher levels of trust in their governments and compliance with government measures, but they also have “serious follow-through.” They did not reduce testing centers, or reduce clinical capacity when their numbers started to come down, but instead increased their efforts.

See also: Climate change and COVID-19 to feature in final debate between Trump and Biden — when and where to watch

“Too many countries have put an imaginary finishing line in place, and when they crossed it, they decelerated their efforts,” said Ryan.

The U.S. added 64,218 new cases on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker. In the last week, the U.S. has averaged 59,269 cases a day, which is up 34% from the average two weeks earlier.

Hospitals in some parts of the Midwest are filling. There are currently 37,744 Americans with COVID-19 in hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project, the highest number since late August. North Dakota and South Dakota now have the most per capita cases in the U.S. and lead 33 states that have rising cases that are remaining high.

North Dakota has counted 4,900 new infections in the last seven days, or 643 per 100,000 people. South Dakota has counted 4,911 cases in the last seven days, equal to 555 per 100,000 people.

North Dakota has about 15% remaining hospital capacity, according to the state health department, while South Dakota has about 38%, according to its health department.

In other news:

• The chief executive of Moderna Inc. (NAS:MRNA)  Stéphane Bancel said the federal government could authorize emergency use of the company’s experimental Covid-19 vaccine in December, if the company gets positive interim results in November from a large clinical trial, The Wall Street Journal reported. Bancel, speaking during The Wall Street Journal’s annual Tech Live conference Monday, said sufficient interim results from the study takes longer to get, government authorization of the vaccine may not occur until early next year. Cambridge, Mass.,-based Moderna has one of the leading Covid-19 vaccines in development, along with a vaccine co-developed by Pfizer Inc. (NYS:PFE) and BioNTech SE (NAS:BNTX) . Large U.S. trials for two other leading Covid-19 vaccines, from Johnson & Johnson (NYS:JNJ)  and AstraZeneca PLC (NAS:AZN)   (LON:UK:AZN) have been paused, while the companies investigate unexplained illnesses among study subjects. Bancel’s comments suggest Moderna’s timetable isn’t far off from Pfizer’s, which said last week it expects to seek U.S. authorization of emergency use of its vaccine by late November.

See: Trump’s vaccine czar says the first vaccine should be submitted for emergency authorization around Thanksgiving

• Passengers flying from London Heathrow to Hong Kong and Italy will now be able to get rapid coronavirus tests before checking in, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. The test, which can be booked online from Tuesday, costs £80 ($104), and results will be available within 60 minutes. The aim of the test is to help people traveling to destinations where proof of a negative result is needed on arrival. Authorities in Hong Kong require passengers to provide a negative COVID-19 test result before they are allowed in, while those arriving in Italy from the U.K. need to either show that they have had a negative coronavirus test before departure or take a test on arrival at an airport.

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Wuhan, Former Pandemic Center, Emerges as Tourist Hot Spot

Wuhan, the city at the center of the coronavirus pandemic, had the most tourists of any Chinese city during a public holiday in October. Wuhan is overcoming its pandemic past and benefiting from its hero-city status to become a top travel destination. Photo: Getty Images

• Russia counted a record 16,319 cases on Tuesday, the Guardian reported. That includes 4,999 in the capital Moscow. Russia has the fourth highest case tally globally at 1.4 million, the Johns Hopkins data shows, and at least 24,473 Russians have died.

• Older men who have recovered from severe cases of COVID-19 have higher levels of antibodies than others, the Washington Post reported, citing a new study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. That may put them in demand as plasma donors, the paper said. Convalescent plasma has been used as a therapy during outbreaks of measles, mumps and Ebola, among other illnesses, but COVID seems to produce significant differences in individual responses. The study tested blood from 126 survivors, discovering major variations in antibody levels and the plasma’s ability to neutralize infections.

Read now: Northern Italy sees resurgence of COVID-19 infections, with hospitalizations rising

Latest tallies

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide now stands at 40.6 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and the death toll is 1.1 million. At least 27.7 million people have recovered from COVID-19.

It took one month for the world to move from 30 million to 40 million cases, after it took six months to go from one patient to 10 million.

With just 4% of the global population, the U.S. leads the world with 8.2 million cases and 220,185 deaths, or about 20% of both totals.

Brazil has the second highest death toll at 154,176 and is third by cases at 5.3 million.

India is second in cases with 7.6 million, and third in deaths at 15,197.

See: 1 in 4 U.S. workers have considered quitting due to pandemic worries

Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 86,338 and ninth highest case tally at 854,926.

The U.K has 44,057 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world, and 765,484 cases.

China, where the disease was first reported late last year, has 91,006 cases and 4,739 fatalities, according to its official numbers.

What are companies saying?

Albertsons Cos. Inc. (NYS:ACI) reported second-quarter earnings that beat expectations and gave upbeat full-year guidance as it continues to benefit from demand for at-home dining during the pandemic. Sales of $15.76 billion were up from $14.18 billion last year and ahead of the FactSet consensus of $15.44 billion. Digital sales soared 243%. And identical sales grew 13.8%, ahead of the 12% growth FactSet forecast. Albertsons has seen “significant increases in product demand and overall basket size” as well as its digital business due to COVID-19. The company expects fiscal 2020 identical sales to grow 15.5% and adjusted EPS growth in the range of $2.75 to $2.85. The FactSet consensus is for identical sales growth of 12.9% and EPS of $2.18.

• AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. (NYS:AMC) disclosed a stock offering of up to 15 million shares. The company said the stock will be sold “from time to time, through an ‘at-the-market’ offering program.” The number of shares in the program would represent roughly 14% of the shares outstanding. The disclosure comes a day after the biggest U.S. cinema chain said: it will resume operations at several New York state cinemas that were closed because of the pandemic starting Oct. 23.

• Procter & Gamble Co. (NYS:PG) reported fiscal first-quarter earnings that beat expectations and raised its fiscal 2021 guidance, continuing to benefit from demand for consumer products during the pandemic. Net sales of health care items grew 11% and the fabric and home care category was up 14%, driving a total sales increase of 9%. P&G raised its full fiscal year sales guidance to growth of 3% to 4% from 1%-to-3% growth. The FactSet consensus is for sales of $73.11 billion, suggesting a rise of 3%. P&G expects EPS growth of 4% to 9% from the 2020 total of $4.96. Adjusted EPS is expected to grow 5% to 8% from $5.12 last year. The previous guidance was for growth of 3% to 7%. The FactSet consensus is for $5.41, implying 5.7% growth.

• Restaurant Brands International Inc. (NYS:QSR)  has launched an offering of $500 million of nine-year bonds, joining the many companies issuing record levels of debt during the pandemic. Proceeds will be combined with cash on hand to redeem part of the outstanding principal amount of the parent of Burger King’s 4.25% first lien senior secured notes due 2024.

• Insurer Travelers Cos. Inc. (NYS:TRV) posted stronger-than-expected profit and revenue for the third quarter Tuesday, despite the impact of high catastrophe losses and the pandemic. “We are pleased to report third quarter core income of $798 million and core return on equity of 13.5%, despite catastrophe losses that were well above the 10-year average for the third quarter,” Chief Executive Alan Schnitzer said in a statement. “Our earnings this quarter reflect strong underlying underwriting income, resulting from record quarterly net earned premiums and an underlying combined ratio which improved 2.6 points to 91.5%.” The company’s investment portfolio generated net investment income of $566 million after-tax, up 8% from a year ago, he said. The company benefited from a $403 million subrogation benefit from utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (NYS:PCG) stemming from 2017 and 2018 California wildfires. Catastrophe losses in the quarter were mostly due to derecho windstorm in the Midwestern region of the United States, the Glass wildfire in California, Tropical Storm Isaias, Hurricane Laura and additional wildfires in the western United States.

•ViacomCBS Inc. (NAS:VIAC) announced new leadership for its streaming operations, effective immediately. Current Pluto TV Chief Executive Tom Ryan will be CEO of ViacomCBS Streaming. He will oversee CBS All Access, which will be renamed Paramount+ in early 2021, and Pluto TV, and have oversight of the company’s global streaming strategy. Marc DeBevoise will step down from his role of chief digital officer of ViacomCBS and CEO of ViacomCBS Digital. Kelly Day, current chief operating officer of ViacomCBS Networks International (VCNI) will be president of streaming for VCNI, and will oversee all digital and streaming platforms outside of the U.S. “As we plan for the launch of Paramount+, bringing together the leaders of our streaming platforms to create a unified global organization will enable us to execute a holistic strategy across both free and pay,” said ViacomCBS Chief Executive Bob Bakish. Streaming platforms are thriving during the pandemic as consumers are spending more time at home.

• Shares of Zoom Video Communications Inc. (NAS:ZM) hit a record intraday high of $588.84 on Monday. The live-video platform, which has flourished during the coronavirus pandemic, continues to thrive as a digital vehicle for working and communications amid competition from Microsoft Corp. (NAS:MSFT) and Slack Technologies Inc. (NYS:WORK) . Last week, Zoom added online events and apps to its services.

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