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The Latest: Global markets surge, with Dow jumping 600 points, after coronavirus drug trial shows promise

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

Stocks flashed green around the world as investors clung to early reports that an antiviral medicine appeared to successfully treat severe symptoms for coronavirus patients.

The Dow Jones industrial average surged roughly 600 points, or 2.5 percent, at Friday’s open. The Standard & Poor’s 500 jumped 2.0 percent and Nasdaq composite climbed 1.4 percent. U.S. markets appeared headed toward their second straight week of gains, bouncing back from March lows that ended the 10-year bull market. The rally came a day after dismal economic numbers showed the United States had erased all job gains of the past decade due to the pandemic, which continues to force tens of millions of Americans to stay home and disrupt entire industries.

“Investors are looking past the economic abyss and accentuating the positives on the health care front,” said Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research.

In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 popped 2.9 percent, the German DAX climbed 3.45 percent and the benchmark Stoxx 600 gained 2.8 percent. Asian stocks finished the day with Japan’s Nikkei 225 up 3.15 percent, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng up 1.5 percent.

On Thursday, STAT news reported that severely ill coronavirus patients were responding well to remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug, at a Chicago hospital. The trial involved only 125 people and the preliminary results were not peer reviewed, but it was welcome news for investors looking for light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, and the economic recovery that will come with it. Gilead shares spiked nearly 10 percent Friday morning.

“There is also positive sentiment being generated by the White House’s plan to begin slowly rolling back lockdown measures,” said Kristina Hooper, global market strategist at Invesco. “It seems clear that, as of late, stocks have chosen to look through what is expected to be a dramatic drop in earnings, and forward to a resurgence in economic activity in the not-too-distant future.”

Oil prices remain at an 18-year-low as airline travel, driving and manufacturing have slowed to a crawl. U.S. crude was selling near $18 a barrel Friday, a fraction of what oil producers need to make a profit. If prices remain depressed long term, many oil companies, suppliers and adjacent service industries will be gravely wounded, resulting in bankruptcies and potentially massive layoffs.

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China’s virus death toll revised up sharply after review

BEIJING — China’s official death toll from the coronavirus pandemic jumped sharply Friday as the hardest-hit city of Wuhan announced a major revision that added nearly 1,300 fatalities.

The new figures resulted from an in-depth review of deaths during a response that was chaotic in the early days. They raised the official toll in Wuhan by 50% to 3,869 deaths. While China has yet to update its national totals, the revised numbers push up China’s total to 4,632 deaths from a previously reported 3,342.The higher numbers are not a surprise — it is virtually impossible to get an accurate count when health systems are overwhelmed at the height of a crisis — and they confirm suspicions that many more people died than the official figures had showed.

The undercount stemmed from several factors, according to a notification issued by Wuhan’s coronavirus response headquarters and published by the official Xinhua News Agency.

The reasons included the deaths of people at home because overwhelmed hospitals had no room for them, mistaken reporting by medical staff focused on saving lives, and deaths at a few medical institutions that weren’t linked to the epidemic information network, it said.

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Coronavirus outbreaks are closing meat processing plants. Beef shortfalls may follow.

The coronavirus has sickened workers and forced slowdowns and closures of some of the country’s biggest meat processing plants, reducing production by as much as 25 percent, industry officials say, and sparking fears of a further round of hoarding.

Several of the country’s largest beef-packing companies have announced plant closures.

Before the coronavirus hit, about 660,000 beef cattle were being processed each week at plants across the United States, according to John Bormann, program sales manager for JBS, the American subsidiary of the world’s largest processor of fresh beef and pork.

This week there probably will be around 500,000 head processed at U.S. plants still in operation. That’s 25 percent less beef being produced.

Some of the slowdown is because of facility closures. Two of the seven largest U.S. facilities — those with the capacity to process 5,000 beef cattle daily — are closed because of the pandemic.

Absenteeism, fewer employees and spreading out those remaining employees to maintain social distance are all also contributing to the slow down.

JBS USA first closed its Souderton, Pa., beef plant April 7 and then shuttered its Greeley, Colo., beef facility after at least 50 of its 6,000 plant employees tested positive. All have been urged to self-quarantine.

National Beef Packing Co. announced Monday the closure of its Tama, Iowa, facility. And Cargill shuttered production at its Hazleton, Pa., ground beef and pork processing plant, and then reduced production at one of Canada’s biggest beef-packing plants after dozens of workers became infected.

The meat supply chain is especially vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus since processing is increasingly done at a handful of massive plants. Another problem in the beef supply, according to Bormann, is something called carcass utilization — the use of the whole animal.

“The first problem is we don’t have enough people to process the animals, and number two is they can’t do carcass balance because restaurants are down,” he said. “What’s selling? Freaking hamburger.”

South Korea sees rise in coronavirus positive tests in recovered patients

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it’s continuing to see a rise in patients who test positive for the coronavirus for a second time after being diagnosed as recovered. However, the risk of transmissions from such cases so far appears to be low.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latest Portland News said Friday at least 163 people have tested positive again after their initial release from hospitals, accounting for more than 2% of the country’s 7,829 recoveries.

She says the patients on average were 13.5 days removed from their release when they tested positive again, although the longest gap was 35 days.

Jeong says none of the patients were in serious condition although 61 of them were exhibiting mild symptoms. Officials are monitoring about 300 people who contacted the patients but have so far detected no transmissions of the virus.

While health authorities are investigating the causes of such cases, including whether they are linked to virus mutations, they have so far downplayed the possibility that people could get re-infected after making a full recovery.

They say it’s more likely that infections were re-activated after remaining dormant in patients whose bodies hadn’t fully developed immunity after experiencing mild symptoms.

Germany to allow some students to return to school soon

BERLIN — Germany’s official statistical office said Friday that some 2.6 million students will soon return to schools as the country relaxes its pandemic lockdown rules.

Authorities in Germany’s 16 states agreed this week to allow a staggered reopening of schools, with students in their final two years of high school and the final year of primary returning first.

Germany, a country of 83 million people, has so far recorded almost 137,700 confirmed infections of the new coronavirus, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Compared to other countries Germany has had relatively few deaths — 4,052 so far — less than a third the number seen in Britain, which has fewer confirmed cases.

London mayor urges wearing face masks

LONDON — London Mayor Sadiq Khan says wearing face coverings, such as bandannas and scarves, could provide people with another layer of protection against the coronavirus and is lobbying the British government to change its advice.

Khan told BBC radio that the evidence he has seen is that wearing a non-medical facial covering “reduces the chances” of those who have the virus of giving it to somebody else. However, he did concede that it “doesn’t necessarily limit your changes of catching the virus.”

He said changing the advice would be helpful for those in public transport or in shops, where some people may find it difficult to abide by the social distancing guidelines of staying two meters (6 feet) apart.

Khan said it’s important that there’s a “consistent approach” across the country and that’s why he’s lobbying the government and its advisers.

The government’s chief medical adviser, Professor Chris Whitty, said Thursday that the evidence around masks being helpful in preventing the spread of the coronavirus is “weak,” while conceding it was a “live issue.”

German official says coronavirus outbreak now ‘manageable’

BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the coronavirus outbreak in the country has become “manageable,” Press Release Distribution Service with new data showing the rate of new infections has slowed significantly.

Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Friday that the increase in COVID-19 cases isn’t exponential anymore, but linear.

Figures released by the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control center, show that the number of people infected by every person with COVID-19 has fallen to 0.7, from over 1 just a few days ago.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week that this so-called reproduction rate was a key indicator the government would take into account when deciding whether to relax the lockdown.

Spahn noted that since April 12, the country has also had more people recovered from COVID-19 than active cases.

Experts say early and widespread testing has helped Germany keep a lid on the outbreak. Spahn said the country has so far conducted 1.7 million tests and is able to carry out 700,000 a week if necessary.

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