By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
The number of global cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 topped 1 million on Thursday as U.S. jobless claims soared to record levels, offering a grim look at how the illness is hurting businesses, individuals and the economy.
President Donald Trump admitted that the nation’s stockpile of protective equipment is almost exhausted, including respiratory masks, gloves and gowns. Trump said he is urging states to order their own supplies directly from manufacturers, but as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said, states are competing with each other, and even with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, for essentials including ventilators and are being forced to tap suppliers from China, as that country is the biggest maker of medical supplies in the world.
Trump started a task force briefing Wednesday by introducing Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and said the U.S. is sending navy ships to Venezuela to counter the threat from drug cartels. Trump said the U.S. “must not let the drug cartels exploit the [coronavirus] pandemic to threaten American lives.” The move surprised many, coming as U.S. virus numbers continue to grow rapidly.
There are now 236,339 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and 5,316 people have died, according to data aggregated by Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. leads the world in number of cases with New York state the epicenter. There are 88,082 cases in the Empire State as of Thursday and 2,373 deaths, according to Cuomo and the state health department. New York City is worst hit with at least 48,462 cases.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the New York-born infectious disease expert who is a key member of the Task Force created to handle the pandemic, has been given a security detail after receiving threats, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing an official familiar with the matter. Fauci’s straight-talking style, and contradiction of some of Trump’s inaccurate claims about the virus, has won him fans and detractors. A request for nine special agents was approved by the Justice Department following a recommendation from the U.S. Marshals Service, the official said.
Fauci said the virus might keep coming back and that the ultimate weapon to fight it is a vaccine. That may not be possible for another year to a year and a half, he said, although experts have said that timeline is too aggressive. As for measures like social distancing, Fauci said those could be eased as soon as the illness curve has moved to the point where there are no new cases and no deaths for a period. “he one thing we hope to have in place, and I believe we will have in place, is a much more robust system to be able to identify someone who is infected, isolate them, and then do contact tracing,” he said at the briefing.
There are 1,002,159 cases of the virus world-wide and 51,485 people have died. Another 208,949 have recovered. Italy has 115,242 cases and the highest death toll at 13,915. Spain has 110,238 cases and 10,003 deaths.
China, where the first cases were reported late last year, has 82,432 cases and 3,322 deaths. Germany has 81,728 cases and 997 deaths. France has 57,807 cases and 4,043 deaths. Iran, another hot spot, has 50,468 cases and 3,160 deaths.
U.S. jobless claims rose by a record 6.6 million in the week to March 28, bringing the two-week total to 10 million. Thousands of workers have been impacted as companies have been forced to shutter plants, outlets, offices and other facilities to combat the spread of the virus. Retailers and airlines have furloughed most of their employees, sending claims past the peak number of people who collected benefits during the 2007 to 2009 so-called Great Recession. Economists predict 25 million Americans or more could lose their jobs in the next few months, at least temporarily.
Bank of America economists said the jobless rate could surge to as high as 15.6% in a few months from 3.5% as of February, far exceeding the rate seen in 2007 to 2009. the B. of A. team is forecasting three consecutive quarters of contraction in gross domestic product, “with the US economy shrinking 7% (annualized) in 1Q, 30% in 2Q and 1% in 3Q.”
On the bright side, the economists estimate that the fourth quarter of 2020 will see a sizable pop in business activity as the measures put in place to slow the deadly contagion are slowly unwound.
Against that background, companies continue to announce cost cutting, the tapping of emergency credit lines and furloughing of staff on Thursday and more withdrew previously-issued guidance. On the medical front, Amgen Inc. became the latest biotech to say it is working on a COVID-19 treatment. Amgen is working with Adaptive Biotechnologies Corp. /zigman2/quotes/212846591/composite ADPT +2.70% to discover and develop antibodies that can be used to prevent or treat the illness, using Adaptive’s viral-neutralizing antibody platform to speed up the process.