Global infections zero in on 500K; US challenges Italy with case surge

Coronavirus infections on Thursday neared a grim high water mark of more than 500,000 infections and over 22,000 deaths, a stark reminder of the inability to contain surging caseloads in Europe and the U.S. that have brought the global economy to a standstill.

At its core a public health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a force multiplier behind a recession that’s likely to be deep and wrenching, and tumult in global markets that are straining credit markets.

On Thursday, America’s death toll topped 1,000 on nearly 70,000 diagnoses. Led by soaring infection rates in New York of over 37,000, U.S. cases are now marginally behind Italy — which has the single worst cluster of coronavirus infections outside of China, where the outbreak began. Ironically, the latter is now reporting no new cases as the Western world is beset by mounting casualties.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, told reporters on Wednesday that the coronavirus could “possibly become a seasonal cyclic thing.”

With African and Southern Hemisphere countries also starting to bubble up, Fauci added that “it will be inevitable that we need to be prepared that we’ll get a cycle a second time.”

Governments and central banks around the world have moved to pump their economies full of stimulus, but a growing number of experts fear those efforts will be insufficient to offset the effects of multiple lockdowns that have brought public life to a grinding halt.

A stark reminder of the growing economic toll was seen on Thursday, when U.S. initial jobless claims skyrocketed to a record of about 3.3 million — far worse than anything seen during the Great Recession.

A $2 trillion relief package that cleared the Senate late Wednesday will backstop consumers and businesses — and helped send markets on a big rally on Thursday. However, the stimulus is unlikely to inoculate the world’s largest economy from a looming downturn that could see annualized growth plummet by double-digits in the coming months.

The COVID-19 crisis continues its global march.

New York City is now a battleground in wide-ranging effort to keep citizens indoors amid an explosion of new COVID-19 cases that are swamping the area’s hospitals, a microcosm of what’s already happening in other parts of the country.

Tamara Moise, an emergency physician based in NYC, told Yahoo Finance in an interview that hospitals and urgent care facilities are running out of basic protective supplies.

“We’re having a shortage, we’re having to ration, things are very tough right now and the emergency rooms are really getting it tough,” Moise said. “It’s really difficult.”

‘Significant pushback’

The U.S. is closing in on Italy with COVID-19 infections, but its death toll is lower.

The damage — both economic and political — has stoked a furious debate over when the U.S. can return to a semblance of normalcy. With his re-election chances likely to be defined by a recovery from the crisis, President Donald Trump on Tuesday called for the economy to be restarted by April 12. 

“A growing number of politicians and pundits are suggesting that minimizing economic dislocation should be prioritized over flattening the epidemic curve (particularly social distancing activities),” said Scott Rosenstein, a special advisor for global health at Eurasia Group, which has generated “significant pushback” from experts.

“The way forward in many localities will likely be reliant on public health approaches, regardless of the more contentious tone of the national debate,” he added.

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