Jobless claims show economic toll; drug makers ramp up efforts

The toll of the coronavirus pandemic widened on Thursday, as grim new U.S. unemployment data underscored the growing economic carnage, and amplified the debate over states relaxing stringent stay-at-home orders.

The virus has now infected more than 3.2 million globally, and killed more than 228,000 — while shutting down businesses and locking many citizens indoors. In the U.S., there have been more than 1 million cases reported, and more than 61,000 are dead.

On Thursday, Labor Department data showed that 3.8 million individuals applied for unemployment in the past week, pushing the record for unemployment to 30 million in the last six weeks. However, some economists believe the peak may have been hit earlier this month, when a record 6.6 million filed for unemployment, and should continue to decline in the coming weeks.

“As the economy starts to reopen in different sorts of states, you should start to see that number starting to come down if people are getting called back to jobs,” Jay Bryson, Wells Fargo Acting Chief Economist, told Yahoo Finance.

“If that doesn’t come down, that’s a worrying development,” Bryson said.

As state officials gradually restart public life, the death toll in the U.S. continues to climb past early estimates. The White House coronavirus task force said various models showed 60,000 was the low end of fatality forecasts, once social distancing measures were put in place.

And as states begin to reopen, the U.S. does appear to have reached a plateau of daily increases, some experts have noted. Yet the dangers are far from over, especially with fears mounting about a potential second wave of infections that could happen as early as the fall — if not sooner.

To date, there are more than 1 million that have tested positive, and over 60,000 dead.

‘Flip the switch, be ready to go’

Promising news for a treatment form Gilead Sciences (GILD) has dominated market trading this week, buoying major indexes hungry for good news. The company expects to continue ramping up production of its drug, in anticipation of a market rollout this year.

But other pharmaceutical makers are also working on production increases in order to be able to immediately respond to the pent up global demand for effective coronavirus treatments. In particular, a number are working on vaccines — which are still about a year away from regulatory approval.

Pfizer (PFE) said Thursday it is aiming to make 10-20 million doses of a vaccine it is developing with BioNtech, which began clinical trials in Germany, by the end of 2020. And AstraZeneca (AZN) announced a partnership with Oxford University to mass produce its vaccine candidate, if it succeeds. The vaccine entered the first phase of human trials last week in the U.K., and the data could be available as early as May.

Meanwhile, companies like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Moderna (MRNA), also working on vaccine candidates, have previously said they are working to meet the potential demand.

Recently, Johnson & Johnson’s CFO Joseph Wolk told Yahoo Finance the company is preparing to be in a position “to kind of flip the switch and (be) ready to go.”

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Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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