As the global death toll from COVID-19 advanced at pace toward 100,000 on Friday, there was cautious optimism on both sides of the Atlantic that, despite the macabre mark, the virus may be peaking and economic recovery could be on the horizon.
In the United States, following high fatalities Thursday, health officials suggested Americans might be able to go on vacations in the summer, as falling hospitalization rates hinted at a turning point in the battle against the coronavirus.
With unemployment skyrocketing and the economy tanking, President Donald Trump is keen to lift social confinement measures and get the United States open for business again as soon as possible.
Trump’s top pandemic adviser, Anthony Fauci, warned America cannot be reopened overnight due to the threat of further waves of infections, but said it could be up and running again by the summer months.
That is, he said, providing citizens adhere to social distancing guidelines and widespread stay-at-home orders, which have the vast majority of Americans on lockdown, throughout April.
Nationwide, the US recorded 1,783 deaths over the past 24 hours, down by 190 from Wednesday’s record-breaking toll.
The country has suffered more than 16,500 virus-related fatalities — the second-highest number in the world after Italy, where deaths have now topped 18,000. And it has emerged as the country with the most coronavirus cases, at more than 460,000.
As of 6 a.m. GMT, the global death toll stood at almost 96,000.
When asked by “CBS This Morning” whether he could envision a summer of vacations, baseball games, weddings and family get-togethers, infectious disease expert Fauci replied, “It can be in the cards.”
In New York, the epicenter of the virus in the United States, only 200 more people entered hospitals, the lowest number since the pandemic struck, even though 799 people died over the last day, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
“We are flattening the curve by what we are doing,” Cuomo said, adding, “We have to keep the curve flat.”
But he declined to predict how New York would fare in the coming weeks, telling reporters bluntly: “I have no idea.”
Hospitalizations dropped in several countries in the European Union and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the highest profile of the 1.6 million people infected by the virus, exited three days of intensive care.
“The fire started by the pandemic is starting to come under control,” said Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of Spain, where fatalities inched down to 683 from 757 a day before, pushing the total above 15,000.
“Our priority now is not to turn back, especially not to return to our starting point, not to lower our guard,” Sanchez told parliament.
France reported that 82 fewer people were in intensive care for COVID-19 — the first fall since the pandemic broke out.
EU finance ministers agreed in late-night talks to a 500 billion-euro ($550 billion) rescue package aimed at reducing pain across the 27-nation bloc, especially hardest-hit Italy and Spain.
“Europe has decided and is ready to meet the gravity of the crisis,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire tweeted after the talks.
He warned earlier in the day that France’s economy is expected to shrink six percent this year, even with the country’s own 100-billion-euro relief plan.
EU finance ministers put aside proposals by France and Italy for pooled borrowing. The Netherlands relented and let the deal come through after pushing hard for Italy and other affected countries to undertake economic reforms.
“Today we answered our citizens’ call for a Europe that protects,” Eurogroup chief Mario Centeno said.
“This response contains bold and ambitious proposals that didn’t seem possible just weeks ago,” added Centeno, who is also Portuguese finance minister.
Both workers and companies are suffering as half the planet is being told to stay at home.
Despite the optimistic tones, the International Monetary Fund said 170 of its 180 members would see declines in per capita income this year — just a few months after predictions that nearly all would enjoy growth.
“We anticipate the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression,” said IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva, urging governments to provide lifelines to businesses and households alike.
And even in the best-case scenario, the IMF expects only a “partial recovery” in 2021, assuming the virus subsides this year.
“It could get worse,” Georgieva warned.