‘Great day for humanity’: Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine over 90% effective

By Michael Erman and Julie Steenhuysen

(Reuters) – Pfizer Inc’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90% effective based on initial trial results, the drugmaker said on Monday, a major victory in the war against a virus that has killed over a million people and battered the world’s economy.

Experts welcomed the first successful interim data from a large-scale clinical test as a watershed moment that showed vaccines could help halt the pandemic, although mass roll-outs, which needs regulatory approval, will not happen this year.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE said they had found no serious safety concerns yet and expected to seek U.S. authorization this month for emergency use of the vaccine, raising the chance of a regulatory decision as soon as December.

If granted, the companies estimate they can roll out up to 50 million doses this year, enough to protect 25 million people, and then produce up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla.

“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen,” he said.

Experts said they still wanted to see the full trial data, which have yet to be peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal, but the preliminary results looked encouraging.

“This news made me smile from ear to ear. It is a relief to see such positive results on this vaccine and bodes well for COVID-19 vaccines in general,” said Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University of Oxford.

There are still many questions, such as how effective the vaccine is by ethnicity or age, and how long it will provide immunity, with the “new normal” of social distancing and face covering set to remain for the foreseeable future.

Pfizer expects to seek U.S. emergency use authorization for people aged 16 to 85. To do so, it will need two months of safety data from about half the study’s 44,000 participants, which is expected in the third week of November.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said it would take several weeks for U.S. regulators to receive and process data on the vaccine before the government could potentially approve it.

MARKETS SURGE

The prospect of a vaccine electrified world markets with the S&P 500 and Dow hitting record highs as shares of banks, oil companies and travel companies soared. Shares in companies that have thrived during lockdowns, such as conferencing platform Zoom Video and online retailers, tumbled.

Pfizer shares jumped more than 11% to their highest since July last year, while BioNTech’s stock hit a record high.

Shares of other vaccine developers in the final stage of testing also rose with Johnson & Johnson up 4% and Moderna Inc, whose vaccine uses a similar technology as the Pfizer shot, up 8%. Britain’s AstraZeneca, however, fell 2%. Moderna is expected to report results from its large-scale trial later this month.

“The efficacy data are really impressive. This is better than most of us anticipated,” said William Schaffner, infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee. “The study isn’t completed yet, but nonetheless the data look very solid.”

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the test results, and the market boost: “STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!” he tweeted.

President-elect Joe Biden said the news was excellent but did not change the fact that face masks, social distancing and other health measures would be needed well into next year.

The World Health Organization said the results were very positive, but warned there was a funding gap of $4.5 billion that could slow access to tests, medicines and vaccines in low- and middle-income countries.

‘NEAR ECSTATIC’

“I’m near ecstatic,” Bill Gruber, one of Pfizer’s top vaccine scientists, said in an interview. “This is a great day for public health and for the potential to get us all out of the circumstances we’re now in.”

Between 55% and 65% of the population will need to be vaccinated to break the dynamic of the spread of COVID-19, said Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn, adding that he did not expect a shot to be available before the first quarter of 2021.

The European Union said on Monday it would soon sign a contract for up to 300 million doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

The companies have a $1.95 billion contract with the U.S. government to deliver 100 million vaccine doses beginning this year. They did not receive research funding from the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program.

The drugmakers have also reached supply agreements with the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan.

Pfizer said the interim analysis, conducted after 94 participants in the trial developed COVID-19, examined how many had received the vaccine versus a placebo.

Pfizer did not break down how many of those who fell ill received the vaccine. Still, over 90% effectiveness implies that no more than 8 of the 94 had been given the vaccine, which was administered in two shots about three weeks apart.

The efficacy rate, which could drop once full results are available, is well above the 50% effectiveness required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a coronavirus vaccine.

Shortly after Pfizer’s announcement, Russia said its Sputnik V vaccine was also more than 90% effective, based on data collated from inoculations of the public. Its preliminary Phase III trial data is due to be published this month.

MORE DATA NEEDED

To confirm the efficacy rate, Pfizer said it would continue its trial until there were 164 COVID-19 cases among volunteers. Bourla told CNBC on Monday that based on rising infection rates, the trial could be completed before the end of November.

Pfizer said its data would be peer reviewed once it has results from the entire trial.

“These are interesting first signals, but again they are only communicated in press releases,” said Marylyn Addo, head of tropical medicine at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany.

Dozens of drugmakers and research groups around the globe have been racing to develop vaccines against COVID-19, which on Sunday exceeded 50 million cases since the new coronavirus first emerged late last year in China.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which relies on synthetic genes that can be generated and manufactured in weeks, and produced at scale more rapidly than conventional vaccines. The technology is designed to trigger an immune response without using pathogens, such as actual virus particles.

The Trump administration has said it will have enough vaccine doses for all of the 330 million U.S. residents who want it by the middle of 2021.

(Reporting by Michael Erman and Julie Steenhuysen; Additional reporting by Michele Gershberg in New York, Ludwig Burger and Patricia Weiss in Frankfurt and Kate Kelland in London; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Caroline Humer, Edwina Gibbs and David Clarke)

‘Not like prison’ – gymnasts content with COVID restrictions before Tokyo test

By Jack Tarrant

TOKYO (Reuters) – At an upscale hotel in Tokyo, gymnasts from the United States, Russia, China and Japan are getting a taste of what more than 11,000 athletes might experience when the city hosts the postponed Olympic Games next year.

They are preparing for Sunday’s meet, which will be the first international event to be held at an Olympic venue since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Games’ postponement.

The one-off event is seen as a trial run for how international athletes may travel to and stay in Japan safely during the Games.

The 30 gymnasts are staying at the same hotel but on separate floors and have different training times to avoid contact.

“Before breakfast, we take a COVID test and they also gave us cell phones that alert us if someone has COVID (in the group),” 16-year-old eMjae Frazier, who had never previously travelled outside of the United States, told Reuters from her hotel room.

“They are being very safe and cautious but it is not like we are in prison.”

Team members are chaperoned from the team bus to their rooms and to the dining room for meals.

“The U.S. team is only allowed to be in the elevators (with the) U.S. team,” said Yul Moldauer.

“We can’t be in there with China, Russia or Japan.”

“We are on the 14th floor and we aren’t allowed beyond the 14th floor, only going down for food when it is lunch, breakfast or dinner time.”

Moldauer, who won bronze at the 2017 World Championships, said he wasn’t bored being stuck in his room and was enjoying looking at the view of Tokyo Tower from his window.

However, the 23-year-old added that he will bring a video games console if he returns for a longer period during the Olympics.

As well as daily COVID-19 tests, all gymnasts and team officials must pass through temperature checks and anti-bacterial sprays when arriving at the meet venue.

There are some benefits to the limitations, according to U.S. coach Tricia Scott.

“We have a lot more time,” she said.

“We don’t have to vie for space, taking turns on beam or taking turns on bars… so that part is very nice.”

Russian athlete Nikita Nagornyy told a virtual news conference later on Friday that he hoped this competition was a sign of things to come.

“I think that the competition we take part in shows that the Olympic Games can and should be held,” he said.

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Global CO2 emissions show biggest ever drop in first half of 2020

By Nina Chestney

LONDON (Reuters) – Global carbon dioxide emissions fell by 8.8% in the first six months of this year, the biggest drop for a first half-year period, due to the effects of coronavirus-related restrictions, a study showed on Wednesday.

Research published in the journal Nature Communications by a group of scientists from China, France, Japan and the United States, said emissions fell by 1,551 million tonnes or 8.8% in the first half of the year, compared to the same period last year.

The 8.8% reduction represents largest ever fall in emissions over the first half year, larger than for any economic downturn. The drop was also larger than the annual decrease during World War Two, although mean emissions are much bigger now than at that time.

The scientists used data based on real-time activity and analyzed the daily, weekly and seasonal trends of CO2 emissions before and after the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn it triggered.

This spring, governments around the world imposed lockdowns to contain the COVID-19 pandemic which curtailed energy use for industrial production and transport. This resulted in greenhouse gas emissions declining.

Warmer-than-usual weather across much of the northern hemisphere also meant that emissions were somewhat lower than they would have been in the same period of last year.

The study said the fall in daily CO2 emissions was most pronounced in April when the toughest restrictions were in place. Emissions began to recover in late April and May as economic activity resumed in China and parts of Europe.

But falls in transport-related emissions persisted.

“By July 1, the pandemic’s effects on global emissions diminished as lockdown restrictions relaxed and some economic activities restarted, especially in China and several European countries,” the paper said.

“However, substantial differences persist between countries, with continuing emission declines in the U.S. where coronavirus cases are still increasing substantially,” it added.

(Reporting by Nina Chestney. Editing by Jane Merriman)

IEA says oil demand recovery set to slow for rest of 2020

By Noah Browning

LONDON (Reuters) – The International Energy Agency (IEA) trimmed its 2020 oil demand forecast on Tuesday, citing caution about the pace of economic recovery from the pandemic.

The Paris-based IEA cut its 2020 outlook by 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 91.7 million bpd in its second downgrade in as many months.

“We expect the recovery in oil demand to decelerate markedly in the second half of 2020, with most of the easy gains already achieved,” the IEA said in its monthly report.

“The economic slowdown will take months to reverse completely … in addition, there is the potential that a second wave of the virus (already visible in Europe) could cut mobility once again.”

Renewed rises in COVID-19 cases in many countries and related lockdown measures, continued remote working and a still weak aviation sector are all hurting demand, the IEA said.

China – which emerged from lockdown sooner than other major economies and provided a strong prop to global demand – continues a strong recovery, while a virus upsurge in India contributed to the biggest demand drop since April, the IEA said.

Increasing global oil output and the downgraded demand outlook also mean a slower draw on crude oil stocks which piled up at the height of lockdown measures, it added.

The agency now predicts implied stock draws in the second half of the year of about 3.4 million barrels per day, nearly one million bpd less than it predicted last month, with July storage levels in developed countries again reaching record highs.

However, preliminary data for August showed industry crude oil stocks fell in the United States, Europe and Japan.

As output cuts eased among producers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies such as Russia, global oil supply rose by 1.1. million bpd in August.

After two months of increases, recovery among countries outside the OPEC+ pact stalled, with production in the United States falling 400,000 bpd as Hurricane Laura forced shut-ins.

(Reporting by Noah Browning; editing by Jason Neely)

WHO’s Tedros says ‘vaccine nationalism’ would prolong pandemic

By Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday that “vaccine nationalism” would only slow the effort to quash the pandemic and called for vaccines to be used fairly and effectively.

Tedros said 78 high-income countries had now joined the “COVAX” global vaccine allocation plan, bringing the total to 170 countries, and the “number is growing”. He urged others to join by the Sept. 18 deadline for binding commitments.

Joining the plan guaranteed those countries access to the world’s largest portfolio of vaccines, with nine candidates currently in the pipeline, he said, adding that a further four were “promising”.

The WHO and the GAVI vaccine alliance are leading the COVAX facility, aimed at helping buy and distribute vaccination shots fairly around the world.

But some countries that have secured their own supplies through bilateral deals, including the United States, have said they will not join COVAX.

“Vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it,” Tedros told a WHO briefing in Geneva, without mentioning any specific countries.

“If and when we have an effective vaccine, we must also use it effectively … In other words, the first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries,” he said, adding that priority should be given to healthcare workers, the elderly and those with underlying conditions.

Tedros thanked Germany, Japan, Norway and the European Commission for joining COVAX during the last week.

“Certainly by the middle of 2021 we should start to see some vaccines actually moving into countries and populations,” said WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, reiterating earlier comments.

Noting that there were 13 experimental vaccines currently in clinical trails, Swaminathan called it an “optimistic scenario” since the typical success rate of 10% could mean several vaccines are approved.

But Swaminathan said that no vaccine should be approved for a worldwide rollout until it had undergone sufficient scrutiny.

“No vaccine is going to be mass-deployed until regulators are confident, governments are confident, and the WHO is confident it has met the minimum standard of safety and efficacy,” she said.

Results were expected from some of the candidates already in phase 3 trials, each involving thousands of participants, by the end of the year or early 2021, Swaminathan said.

“We are not going to have enough for the whole world right at the beginning,” she said adding that scaling up of manufacturing would take time.

“Eventually there will be enough for everyone but it will mean prioritization,” she said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge; Editing by Alison Williams and Giles Elgood)

Exclusive: Vaccine group says 76 rich countries now committed to ‘COVAX’ access plan

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – Seventy-six wealthy nations are now committed to joining a global COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) that aims to help buy and fairly distribute the shots, the project’s co-lead said on Wednesday.

Seth Berkley, chief executive of the GAVI vaccines alliance, said the plan, known as COVAX, now has Japan, Germany, Norway and more than 70 other nations signed up, agreeing in principle to procure COVID-19 vaccines through the facility for their populations.

“We have, as of right now, 76 upper middle income and high income countries that have submitted confirmations of intent to participate – and we expect that number to go up,” Berkley told Reuters in an interview.

“This is good news. It shows that the COVAX facility is open for business and is attracting the type of interest across the world we had hoped it would.”. COVAX coordinators are in talks with China about whether it might also join, Berkley said.

“We had a discussion yesterday with the (Chinese) government. We don’t have any signed agreement with them yet,” but Beijing had given “a positive signal”.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a briefing on Wednesday that China “supports COVAX and has been in communication with WHO and other parties” about it.

COVAX is co-led by GAVI, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). It is designed to discourage national governments from hoarding COVID-19 vaccines and to focus on first vaccinating the most high-risk people in every country.

Its backers say this strategy should lead to lower vaccine costs for everyone and a swifter end to the pandemic that has claimed some 860,000 lives globally.

Wealthy countries that join COVAX will finance the vaccine purchases from their national budgets, and will partner with 92 poorer nations supported through voluntary donations to the plan to ensure vaccines are delivered equitably, Berkley said.

Participating wealthy countries are also free to procure vaccines through bilateral deals and other plans.

The United States said on Tuesday it would not join COVAX due to the Trump administration’s objection to WHO involvement, a move described by some critics as “disappointing.” Berkley said he was not surprised by the U.S. decision, but would seek to continue talks with Washington.

In what appeared to be a change of position on Wednesday, the European Union said its member states could buy potential COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX.

COVAX coordinators sought to add flexibility to joining agreements to encourage greater participation, Berkley said.

The WHO describes COVAX as an “invaluable insurance policy” for all countries to secure access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines when they are developed and approved. The plan’s coordinators have set a deadline of Sept. 18 for countries signing up to make binding commitments.

Asked to comment on the U.S. decision not to join COVAX, and on talks with China, a WHO spokesperson said: “Countries have until Sept. 18 to sign binding agreements…, so we’ll have more to say on countries that have joined then.”

COVAX’s objective is to procure and deliver 2 billion doses of approved vaccines by the end of 2021. It currently has nine COVID-19 vaccine candidates in its portfolio employing a range of different technologies and scientific approaches.

A handful are already in late-stage clinical trials and could have data available by year end.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Mark Heinrich)

Proportion of youth with COVID-19 triples in five months: WHO

By Ankur Banerjee and Stephanie Nebehay

(Reuters) – Young people who are hitting nightclubs and beaches are leading a rise in fresh coronavirus cases across the world, with the proportion of those aged 15 to 24 who are infected rising three-fold in about five months, the World Health Organization said.

An analysis by the WHO of 6 million infections between Feb. 24 and July 12 found that the share of people aged 15-24 years rose to 15% from 4.5%.

Apart from the United States which leads a global tally with 4.8 million total cases, European countries including Spain, Germany and France, and Asian countries such as Japan, have said that many of the newly infected are young people.

“Younger people tend to be less vigilant about masking and social distancing,” Neysa Ernst, nurse manager at Johns Hopkins Hospital’s biocontainment unit in Baltimore, Maryland told Reuters in an email.

“Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19,” she said, adding young people are more likely to go to work in the community, to a beach or the pub, or to buy groceries.

The surge in new cases, a so-called second wave of infections, has prompted some countries to impose new curbs on travel even as companies race to find a vaccine for the fast-spreading virus that has claimed more than 680,000 lives and upended economies.

Even countries such as Vietnam, widely praised for its mitigation efforts since the coronavirus appeared in late January, are battling new clusters of infection.

Among those aged 5-14 years, about 4.6% were infected, up from 0.8%, between Feb. 24 and July 12, the WHO said, at a time when testing has risen and public health experts are concerned that reopening of schools may lead to a surge in cases.

Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. expert on infectious diseases, urged young people last month to continue to socially distance, wear masks and avoid crowds, and cautioned that asymptomatic people could spread the virus, too.

Indeed, health experts in several countries have urged similar measures as they report that infected youth show few symptoms.

“We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: young people are not invincible,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news briefing in Geneva last week.

“Young people can be infected; young people can die; and young people can transmit the virus to others.”

Last month, Tokyo officials said they would conduct coronavirus testing in the city’s nightlife districts, and instructed nightclubs to provide customers with enough space with good ventilation and to ask them to avoid speaking loudly.

In France last month, authorities shut down a bar where people breached hygiene rules and caused an outbreak.

(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee and Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh and Bernadette Baum)

In milestone year, A-bomb survivor keeps up fight for nuclear disarmament

By Akiko Okamoto

TOKYO (Reuters) – Terumi Tanaka was 13 when a U.S. warplane dropped a plutonium bomb on the southern Japanese city of Nagasaki, on Aug. 9, 1945.

Sitting at home with a book that morning, Tanaka knew instantly when his surroundings turned a blinding bright white that the massive boom was not one of the air raids he had gotten accustomed to in the waning days of World War Two.

“I felt this was something terrible, so I ran downstairs and ducked, covered my ears and closed my eyes,” Tanaka, now 88, told Reuters. “And at that moment, I lost consciousness.”

Just 3.2 km (2 miles) from the epicenter, Tanaka was miraculously unharmed, as were his mother and two sisters. Tanaka’s father had died of illness previously.

Tanaka’s grandfather, aunt and uncle weren’t as lucky.

Three days after the 10,000-pound (4,536kg) bomb, nicknamed “Fat Man,” exploded over the city, Tanaka ventured towards the epicenter to check on his relatives.

It was only then that the scale of the calamity sank in.

Buildings in the city had been reduced to charred piles of rubble and twisted metal, a vast expanse of land was wiped out, and corpses and burn victims with flesh peeling off their bones littered the ground. His grandfather was one of them: Tanaka dabbed a wet handkerchief to his mouth, which appeared to silently cry out for water. That was their last encounter.

Three days after the atomic bomb attack in Hiroshima, the Nagasaki blast killed about 27,000 instantly and more than 70,000 by the end of the year. Japan surrendered six days later.

For nearly 50 years, Tanaka has been speaking out for nuclear disarmament hoping that his experiences as a witness to one of the only two nuclear bombs ever to be used in conflict would serve to end their potential use.

In this 75th year since the war ended, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted some key events, such as a New York exhibition that Tanaka helped to organize.

Instead, Tanaka, who served as head of the “Hidankyo” victims’ group for more than 20 years, has turned online to spread his message, with the unexpected benefit of reaching a broader audience.

But he worries that time is running out.

“After all the atomic bomb survivors are gone, I’m worried whether people will be able to really understand what we have experienced,” he said.

(Reporting by Akiko Okamoto; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Karishma Singh)

When the U.S. sneezes, the world catches a cold. What happens when it has severe COVID-19?

By Howard Schneider

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – During a blue-sky moment in 2018 near the end of a decade-long economic expansion, it was the United States that helped pull the world along as the extra cash from tax cuts and government spending flowed through domestic and global markets.

But if it was U.S. policy that pushed the world higher then, it is U.S. policy that threatens to pull the world under now as the country’s troubled response to the coronavirus pandemic emerges as a chief risk to any sustained global recovery.

Officials from Mexico to Japan are already on edge. Exports have taken a hit in Germany, and Canada looks south warily knowing that any further hit to U.S. growth will undoubtedly spill over.

“Globally there will be difficult months and years ahead and it is of particular concern that the number of COVID-19 cases is still rising,” the International Monetary Fund said in a review of the U.S. economy that cited “social unrest” due to rising poverty as one of the risks to economic growth.

“The risk ahead is that a large share of the U.S. population will have to contend with an important deterioration of living standards and significant economic hardship for several years. This, in turn, can further weaken demand and exacerbate longer-term headwinds to growth.”

It was a clinical description of a grim set of facts: After the U.S. government committed roughly $3 trillion to support the economy through a round of restrictions on activity imposed to curb the virus in April and May, the disease is surging in the United States to record levels just as those support programs are due to expire. More than 3.6 million people have been infected and 140,000 killed. Daily growth in cases has tripled to more than 70,000 since mid-May, and the 7-day moving average of deaths, after falling steadily from April to July, has turned higher.

Meanwhile the country has fractured over issues like mask-wearing that in other parts of the world were adopted readily as a matter of common courtesy. With some key states like Texas and California now reimposing restrictions, analysts have already noted a possible plateau to the U.S. recovery with the country still 13.3 million jobs shy of the number in February.

A GLOBAL DISAPPOINTMENT

For other major economic powers, that is a weight added to their own struggles with the virus and the economic fallout.

The U.S. economy accounts for about a quarter of world gross domestic product. Though much of that is service-related, and much of the direct impact of the virus is tied up in industries like restaurants with weak links to the global economy, the connections are still there. A lost job leads to lower consumer spending leads to fewer imports; weak business conditions lead to less investment in the equipment or supplies that are often produced elsewhere.

Year-to-date U.S. imports through May are down more than 13%, or roughly $176 billion.

In Germany, whose measures to contain the pandemic are considered to have been among the most effective, exports to the United States plunged 36% year-over-year in May. Analysts see little prospect for improvement, with year-to-date U.S. auto sales through June down nearly 24% from a year earlier.

“That is really a disappointment,” said Gabriel Felbermayr, president of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, in a recent interview with radio network Deutschlandfunk. The spike in U.S. infections, he said, could not have been expected.

In Japan, the speed of the recovery is seen tied directly to U.S. success in stemming the virus.

“Japan’s recovery will be really delayed if the spreading of the coronavirus in the United States isn’t stopped and U.S.-bound exports from various Asian countries don’t grow,” said Hideo Kumano, a former Bank of Japan official who is now chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

PESSIMISM AT BOTH BORDERS

The IMF projected U.S. GDP will shrink this year by 6.6%, in line with many analysts’ projections.

The Bank of Canada is more pessimistic, forecasting U.S. GDP to fall 8.1% on the year. That has already been lowered once as the health situation decayed.

A further leg down would hit Canada directly, with perhaps three-fourths of the country’s exports headed over the U.S. border.

“We did take down our U.S. projection … I would underline that there’s a lot of uncertainty, and the principle source of the uncertainty is the evolution of the coronavirus itself,” said BOC governor Tiff Macklem.

At the southern border, Mexico is also posting record daily numbers of new cases, but President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has at times deflected criticism of his government’s efforts by pointing to the U.S. numbers.

Lopez Obrador undertook a risky visit with President Donald Trump earlier in July, couching his journey to Washington as a matter of economic necessity as Mexico attempts to revive an economy that could shrink by 10% or more this year, according to forecasts.

The Mexican president hopes the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal, which took effect on July 1, will spur business and investment, but pessimism about the outlook has been growing.

“To the point that people in the U.S. are losing jobs or incomes it is a downward weight … and it will have ramifications on the ability to consume globally,” said Elizabeth Crofoot, senior economist at the Conference Board, which documented a record drop in global consumer confidence in a recent survey.

“We take one step forward and two steps back.”

(Reporting by Howard Schneider in Washington; Additional reporting by Reinhard Becker and Christian Kraemer in Berlin, Leika Kihara in Tokyo, Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Dan Burns and Matthew Lewis)

World scrambles to curb fast-spreading coronavirus

By Colin Packham and Parisa Hafezi

SYDNEY/DUBAI (Reuters) – The coronavirus’ rapid spread in Iran, Italy, South Korea and elsewhere left alarmed governments and people across the globe rushing on Thursday to implement emergency measures.

For the first time, new infections around the world in the past 24 hours surpassed those in mainland China, where the flu-like disease emerged two months ago but is on the decline after an aggressive containment campaign.

In Japan, where cases rose to 200, there was particular concern after a female tour bus guide tested positive for a second time – one of very few worldwide to do so.

Tokyo has halted big gatherings and sports events for two weeks, and is closing schools early for the spring break. But it still plans to go ahead with the 2020 Olympics, whose cancellation or relocation would be a massive blow for Japan.

The coronavirus has mainly battered China, causing 78,596 cases and 2,746 deaths. But it has spread to another 44 countries with 3,246 cases and 51 deaths reported.

Though meeting the dictionary definition of a pandemic – widespread contagion across a large region – the World Health Organization (WHO) has so far held back from using that term.

“There is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said as he ordered hospitals to ensure sufficient medical supplies, protective gear and staff.

U.S. President Donald Trump put his vice president, Mike Pence, in charge of America’s response, while France’s President Emmanuel Macron rallied the nation.

“We have a crisis before us. An epidemic is on its way,” Macron said at a Paris hospital where a 60-year-old Frenchman this week became the second person to die from the coronavirus in France.

(Live blog: Online site for coronavirus news – https://www.reuters.com/live-events/coronavirus-6-id2921484)

MARKETS DOWN FOR SIXTH DAY

Spooked by the impact on China, the world’s second-biggest economy and the heart of corporate supply chains, and the increasing effect on other countries, stock markets sank deeper into the red and oil prices fell

Global markets have dropped for six straight days, wiping out more than $3.6 trillion in value.

A rash of countries have had their first cases in recent days, the latest being Denmark with a man back from a ski holiday in Italy, and Estonia with someone returning from Iran.

There is no cure for the virus that can lead to pneumonia, and a vaccine may take up to 18 months to develop.

New cases in South Korea took its total to 1,261 with 12 deaths, while Europe’s hotspot Italy had 453 infections and 12 deaths, and Iran reported 245 cases and 26 fatalities.

Urging people to avoid unnecessary travel, Tehran extended its closure of cinemas, cultural events and conferences for another week. Iran’s outbreak has added to the isolation of a nation already under U.S. sanctions.

The coronavirus has played havoc with global aviation and tourism as airlines cancel flights, countries ban visitors from hot spots and nervous passengers put off travel.

News that a Korean Air flight attendant who worked on flights between Seoul and Los Angeles later tested positive was likely to unnerve passengers further.

The United States is managing 59 cases – most of them Americans repatriated from a cruise ship quarantined in Japan where almost 700 cases developed. But Trump said the risk was “very low” in the United States which was “very, very ready”.

Chinese authorities said the number of new deaths stood at 29 on Thursday, its lowest daily tally since Jan. 28. There were just 433 new cases in mainland China in the last 24 hours, compared to 586 in nations and territories elsewhere.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html in an external browser)

(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Yilei Sun and Lusha Zhang in Beijing, Daniel Leussink in Tokyo, Parisa Hafez in Dubai, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Sudip Kar-Gupta and Michel Rose in Paris; Writing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Nick Macfie)