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J&J’s Chief Scientific Officer predicts vaccinations against coronavirus within 12 months

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Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Paul Stoffels says the pharmaceutical giant is making good progress on development of a vaccine against COVID-19 “and we are now close to selecting a candidate vaccine which we can bring forward for pre-clinical and clinical testing.”

Dr. Stoffels told Yahoo Finance large scale testing is scheduled to start in November. J&J is working with U.S. regulators to finish pre-clinical work before testing begins.

“It has to be very safe and effective and that’s why we need some time to test,” Stoffels said.

“I am pretty comfortable that within 12 months we will be in a different situation and probably will be able to start vaccinating people,” Stoffels predicted.

In the meantime he says prevention and social distancing are the best precautions to keep people from becoming ill.

No quick fix even after vaccine developed

Johnson & Johnson is the world’s third largest pharmaceutical company and has previously worked with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, BARDA, to develop vaccines against different diseases like EBOLA and FLU. Dr. Stoffels says J&J kicked off its coordinated research with BARDA six weeks ago.

Even after a vaccine is developed and proven to be safe and effective, Stoffels says it will be difficult to produce enough vaccine to inoculate the entire population at once.

Digital generated image of macro view of the corona virus from the 2020.
Digital generated image of macro view of the corona virus from the 2020.

“So, what needs to be done is first vaccinating the high risk people, the people at highest risk, like health care workers and like the elderly people and those people who are most at risk to get very sick and even die from the disease,” he says.

Stoffels says it will be up to health care professionals in the United States and other countries to determine who should be vaccinated first. He says the technology exists to produce large quantities of vaccine, “and we will activate that system very quickly as we have a vaccine which we are going to develop.”

Drastic measures to stop the outbreak

India this week ordered its 1.3 billion citizens to stay home for the next three weeks joining countries around the world taking historic steps to stop the COVID-19 outbreak. “The likelihood that this will be under control soon is low,” Dr. Stoffels said.

Without a vaccine, Stoffels says there is the possibility that the coronavirus could become a seasonal outbreak, “It will come in waves until a large majority of people get infected and get antibodies,” he said.

Stoffels says he worries about the COVID-19 virus mutating on a seasonal basis. That would require updated vaccines on a regular basis to protect people from new variations of the virus. “But up to now I think… it doesn’t look like that,” Stoffels said.

“Hopefully it stays with one virus going around the world and making sure we get this under control as soon as possible.” If not, Stoffels says a vaccine at a certain point, “will put a stop to this.”

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Adam Shapiro is co-anchor of Yahoo Finance’s On the Move.

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Global stocks tumble after dire warnings on virus toll

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A new quarter brought a fresh jolt of volatility to global equity markets on Wednesday, with Wall Street opening down as the coronavirus crisis worsened in the US and pressure on economies around the world mounted. 

The S&P 500 fell 3.7 per cent as trading began, with banks and technology stocks particularly hard hit. The Nasdaq Composite declined 3.1 per cent. 

London’s FTSE 100 dropped 3.7 per cent while Frankfurt’s Dax and Paris’s CAC 40 were down roughly 4 per cent. The Europe Stoxx 600 fell 3.2 per cent.

The new leg down for global equities, which followed the worst quarter for markets since the 2008 financial crisis, came after President Donald Trump warned that up to 240,000 people could die in the US from Covid-19.

Italy and Spain, the two worst-hit countries in Europe, have shown some signs of improvement in recent days, as the centre of the coronavirus crisis quickly shifts to the US. 

“Europe seems to have reached, if not [passed], the peak in new infections,” said Marco Wagner, economist at Commerzbank. “In the US, on the other hand, the situation is becoming more acute. A flattening of the infection curve is still not apparent.” 

On Tuesday, Mr Trump warned Americans of a “very, very painful two weeks” ahead while Anthony Fauci, a top government health official, said people should be prepared for high fatalities.

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The world’s biggest economy, like many others, has already shown severe signs of strain from the lockdowns prompted by the pandemic, with the number of people seeking unemployment benefits shooting late last month to a historic high of 3m. 

In a sign of the heavy blow faced by investors globally, the UK’s biggest banks announced after the close of trading on Tuesday that they would scrap billions of pounds worth of dividends under pressure from the country’s top financial regulator. 

Bank shares dropped on Wednesday, with HSBC down about 9 per cent, and Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland falling about 5 per cent. US banks tracked their European counterparts lower, with broader KBW bank index, one of the most widely tracked measures of the performance of the US banking sector, down 6 per cent. 

Business executives in the eurozone, Japan and South Korea reported a marked deterioration in the factory sector in March compared with February, according to purchasing managers’ indices that are closely watched by investors as leading economic indicators. 

Robert Carnell, Asia-Pacific head of research at ING, said Wednesday’s Asia PMI readings confirmed a “grim picture” for manufacturers. He added that “the prospect for most economies’ manufacturing sectors as they head into the second quarter is for even more weakness, exacerbated where lockdown measures are newly enacted or tightened”. 

Most Asian markets were lower, with Japan’s Topix down 3.7 per cent and South Korea’s Kospi off 3.9 per cent. China’s CSI 300 slipped 0.3 per cent.

The Institute for Supply Management is also set to publish its latest reading on the US factory sector, which is considered to be one of the best forward-looking proxies for the rate of change in US gross domestic product. Economists polled by Reuters expect the ISM gauge to sink to 45 in March from 50.1 the previous month. A reading below 50 points to a contraction in the sector. 

Global equities had rallied over the last week amid quarter-end portfolio rebalancing, and as investors pinned their hopes on huge stimulus efforts by policymakers and the eventual slowing of the spread of Covid-19.

The yield on 10-year US Treasuries, viewed as a haven during times of market uncertainty, slipped 0.09 percentage points to 0.611 per cent. Yields fall as bond prices rise.

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Stock Markets in Asia Dip on Dire U.S. Warning: Live Updates

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Markets fell in early Wednesday trading in Asia as investors digested a steady drip of worrying news about the economic ramifications of the global coronavirus outbreak.

Major indexes in Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea were modestly lower midday, as financial markets settled into a slow grind of bad news. While the panic of recent weeks appeared to have subsided, numerous signs pointed to glum prospects for a quick recovery.

After Wall Street’s Tuesday close, President Trump said at a news conference that the United States would face “a very painful, very very painful two weeks.” U.S. government scientists projected that the outbreak could kill up to 240,000 Americans.

Futures markets predicted Europe and the United States would open lower later on Wednesday. Prices for long-term U.S. Treasury bonds, a traditional investment safe haven, rose, as did gold futures. Oil prices were mixed.

By early afternoon, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index had slid 1.8 percent and the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong had dropped 0.9 percent. South Korea’s Kospi was down 0.1 percent. Markets in mainland China, which often move at odds with stocks elsewhere, were modestly higher, with the Shanghai Composite index rising 0.4 percent.

March was a month of head-snapping turns in financial markets: The S&P 500 suffered its worst one-day drop since 1987 before later recording its best three-day run since 1933, oil prices crashed, interest rates plunged and Wall Street’s more esoteric markets seized up.

The roller coaster came as investors found themselves overwhelmed by a shutdown of the world economy. Early in the month, the record-breaking, 11-year bull market ended, and trading was halted more than once to prevent a crash.

An enormous fiscal and policy response at the end of the month helped undo some of the worst of the damage. The S&P 500 recouped more than half of its losses in the final week of the month after lawmakers passed a $2 trillion spending package and the Federal Reserve said it would buy an unlimited amount of government-backed debt to keep markets functioning.

But even as stocks rebounded well off their lowest point, March was the worst month for the S&P 500 since October 2008, when investors feared a collapse of the economy in the wake of the global financial crisis. The S&P 500 fell 12.5 percent this month. The index is down 20 percent so far this year.

On Tuesday, stocks fell 1.6 percent.

Calmer markets do not mean the worst is over. As consumers stay home and factories shut down, millions of workers have lost their jobs. Economic data showing the scale of the damage has only just begun to roll in, and Wall Street analysts continue to downgrade expectations for the economy.

The stakes are high, and so are the prices. Wholesale costs for N95 respirators, a crucial type of mask for protecting medical workers, have quintupled. Trans-Pacific airfreight charges have tripled.

Global desperation to protect front-line medical workers battling the coronavirus epidemic has spurred a mad global scramble for masks and other protective gear.

The White House announced over the weekend that it had organized 22 flights to airlift personal protection equipment. They are aimed at resupplying hospitals that are within 72 hours of running out of protection equipment, said Gregory Forrester, the chief executive of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

“If any one of these planes don’t take off,” Mr. Forrester said, “that’s going to be an issue.”

China has become a major part of the solution. Already a giant in mask manufacturing, it has ramped up production to nearly 12 times its earlier level. It was a huge mobilization effort that involved redesigning freight train routes and sending large numbers of workers across the country in sealed buses.

The Chinese government has encouraged global deals, but buying and selling masks is no easy feat. Traders, some just weeks into their new but unstable careers, have to navigate confusion, fraud attempts, byzantine customs laws and other barriers.

Japan’s factory activity in March slowed to its lowest rate in a decade and its manufacturers are increasingly pessimistic about the state of the country’s economy, data showed on Wednesday, in the latest indications of the pressure that the coronavirus is putting on Japanese businesses.

The country’s economy was already on the brink of a technical recession — two consecutive quarters of contraction — following a 7.1 percent drop in economic output in the final three months of last year.

But a gauge of factory output, known as the purchasing manager’s index, fell to 44.8 in a monthly survey by Jibun Bank and IHS Markit. A reading less than 50 indicates economic contraction.

The reading was the lowest level since 2009, when the country was grappling with the impact of the global financial crisis.

Separately, Japanese manufacturers’ concerns about the course of the economy over the coming three months have sharpened dramatically, turning negative for the first time since 2011, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, according to a central bank survey of business conditions, known as the Tankan, that was released on Wednesday.

So far, Japan has managed to limit the spread of the coronavirus without resorting to the kinds of strict measures that have caused widespread economic shutdowns in the United States, China and Europe.

But plummeting demand from those areas and disruptions to global supply chains have nevertheless driven Japanese manufacturers to cut back production.

The Japanese automaker Subaru announced on Wednesday it was temporarily suspending activity in some of its factories at home and in the United States. The announcement followed similar decisions by other automakers, including Toyota, which announced last month that it would pause work at some domestic facilities.

Friends of Ren Zhiqiang, a well-known former property mogul and Communist Party member in China, say he has disappeared after writing an essay critical of the Chinese government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The essay, which was shared widely within private internet message groups, never named Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, but it faulted the actions of a power-hungry “clown” and the Communist Party’s strict limits on free speech. It declared that the party should “wake up from ignorance” and oust the leaders holding it back, just as it did with the leaders known as the “Gang of Four” in 1976, ending the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.

The disappearance of Mr. Ren, a longtime critic of the Chinese government who amassed nearly 38 million Weibo followers before his account was deleted in 2016, adds to fears that China is sliding backward and abandoning the reforms that saved it from extreme poverty and international isolation. His fate suggests China’s leadership won’t tolerate criticism of its actions during the outbreak.

For 15 years, the U.S. government has been pressing airlines to prepare for a possible pandemic by collecting passengers’ contact information so that public health authorities could track down people exposed to a contagious virus.

The airlines have repeatedly refused, even this month as the coronavirus proliferated across the United States. Now the country is paying a price.

As the coronavirus spread into the United States earlier this year, the federal government was not able to get in touch with or monitor airline passengers who might have been exposed to the disease or were bringing it into new communities.

Airline executives and lobbyists have protested that it would be expensive and time-consuming for them to start collecting basic information like email addresses and phone numbers for all passengers.

Reporting was contributed by Ben Dooley, Li Yuan, Keith Bradsher, Carlos Tejada and Daniel Victor.

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Coronavirus latest: Russia to send medical supplies to US

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