NYC begins road to recovery as AstraZeneca, Gilead deal talk swirls

New York City, once a global epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, began reopening Monday after 100 days under strict restrictions to help flatten the COVID-19 curve, even as infection rates across other regions continue to climb.

Worldwide, the outbreak has now infected over 7 million people, with the death toll crossing 400,000 over the weekend. Diagnoses continue to climb in the U.S., which has now recorded over 2 million cases and 110,000 casualties.

Once the hardest hit region in the U.S., the Big Apple has turned a corner after grappling with overflowing hospitals at the infection’s peak back in April. With continually declining hospitalizations and daily positive rates across the state, the city is entering the first phase of reopening, which will see some industries get back to work, while retailers will be open for curbside or in-store pickups.

Subway ridership has also begun to recover after a steep plunge of over 90% in previous months. In February, ridership was 5.4 million rides per weekday, by April, that number was 450,000.

However, public health experts are keeping a close watch on troubling trends in some states, where rates of positive cases are climbing. While in some areas the increase in testing has lead to higher numbers, experts warn that might not tell the complete story.

Globally, the World Health Organization is watching as the coronavirus outbreak is worsening.

“Although the situation in Europe is improving, globally it is worsening,” said Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO director general. “Almost 75% of yesterday’s cases come from 10 countries, mostly in the Americas and South Asia.”

Yet one bright spot came from New Zealand, which reported zero active cases Monday, leading to the start of a full economic reopening. The news puts the island nation on a short list of countries that have completely done away with COVID-related restrictions.

There are over 1.9 million coronavirus cases in the U.S. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Let’s make a deal?

Meanwhile, two of the most prominent companies involved in the race to find a coronavirus treatment may be combining forces. AstraZeneca (AZN) reportedly reached out last month to Gilead Science (GILD) to tease the idea of a merger, Bloomberg reported over the weekend.

Gilead, whose experimental COVID-19 treatment has boosted its stock price, is said to be uninterested, and no formal talks have taken place. Still, analysts speculated on the potential of a merger between the two.

“Most large biopharma deals arise from a position of distress, not strength, and Gilead today is far from distressed,” SVBLeerink’s Geoffery Porges wrote in a note Monday.

If consummated, the merger would be the largest pharma deal ever. Gilead is a $96 billion company while AstraZeneca boasts a market value of $140 billion, and would combine for a nearly $240 billion company. The largest to-date has been Celgene’s acquisition by Bristol-Myers Squibb. at nearly $88 billion.

UBS’s Michael Leuchten told Yahoo Finance Monday the merger could make strategic sense, at least on paper.

“What you’re looking at is AstraZeneca being a cash-poor and a pipeline rich company, and. Gilead pretty much being the exact opposite,” he said.

AstraZeneca has gone through a repositioning, and seen solid growth in the past few years. But that is unlikely to translate into an aggressive push for the merger.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot and Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day are former colleagues at Roche, which is likely how the conversation took place, some have said.

Either way, Gilead is “unlikely to be responsive to AstraZeneca’s outreach,” Porges said.

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

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