WASHINGTON: US scientists have hailed a potential breakthrough in the coronavirus fight after a trial showed patients responding to an antiviral drug, fuelling global hopes for a return to normal despite mounting deaths and abysmal economic figures.
The news was enough to propel a rebound on Wall Street even after data showed the pandemic had plunged the United States into its worst economic slump in a decade, and Germany predicted its biggest recession since the aftermath of World War II.
A clinical trial of the drug remdesivir showed that patients recovered about 30 per cent faster than those on a placebo, in the first proof of successful treatment against the new disease.
“The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery,” Anthony Fauci, the top US epidemiologist who oversaw the study, told reporters.
Fauci likened the finding to the first retrovirals that worked, albeit with modest success, against HIV in the 1980s.
Remdesivir failed in trials against the Ebola virus and a smaller study, released last week by the WHO, found limited effects among patients in Wuhan, China, where the illness was first detected in December.
Senior WHO official Michael Ryan declined to weigh in on the latest findings, saying he had not reviewed the complete study.
“We are all hoping — fervently hoping — that one or more of the treatments currently under observation and under trial will result in altering clinical outcomes” and reducing deaths, he said.
US President Donald Trump has accused the UN health agency of not responding quickly or aggressively enough, although critics say he is trying to deflect attention from his own response.
Itching to return to the campaign trail as he faces re-election, Trump announced he would resume travel next week with an event in the battleground state of Arizona — but not yet resume rallies, as contagion remains a risk.
US virus fatalities soared past 60,000 on Wednesday. The country has suffered the most deaths, with Britain’s toll shooting up to the world’s third worst at over 26,000.
More than 27,000 people have died in Italy.
Florida became the latest US state to move to reopen, with restaurants able to serve customers outdoors from Monday if tables are at least six feet apart.
Experts have warned that only a vaccine will allow the full removal of restrictions that this year put half of humanity under some form of lockdown.
Governments are nevertheless increasingly loosening the more suffocating rules as their devastating impact on the global economy becomes clearer.
Livelihoods in danger
The International Labour Organisation has said half the global workforce — around 1.6 billion people — is in “immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed”. One of the worst-hit sectors is the aviation industry.
World air traffic suffered a massive drop of more than half in March compared with the same period last year — the “largest decline in recent history”, the International Air Transport Association said.
Plane-builder Boeing announced plans to reduce its workforce by 10 per cent and slash production while European giant Airbus also reported big losses.
An unprecedented drop in demand for fossil fuels means the pandemic is expected to cause global energy emissions to fall a record eight per cent this year, the International Energy Agency said on Thursday.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2020