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Doctors and nurses work with patients in the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) at the Emilio Ribas Institute of Infectious Disease hospital in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Friday, May 15, 2020.

COVID-19 cases surpass 5.5 million worldwide — Global virus update

Doctors and nurses work with patients in the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) at the Emilio Ribas Institute of Infectious Disease hospital in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Friday, May 15, 2020.

Key Developments:

NYC Hires 1,700 Contact Tracers

New York City has hired more than 1,700 so-called contact tracers, who will be trained and in action by June 1, Mayor Bill De Blasio said.

The city had set out to hire 1,000 but surpassed that goal, De Blasio said during a press briefing Tuesday. Tracers are key to stemming the spread of the coronavirus by identifying who people infected have come into contact with.

UK Clears Gilead Drug in Early-Access Programme

The UK approved using Gilead Sciences Inc.’s antiviral drug remdesivir for some patients hospitalised with COVID-19 after a study showed it can speed recovery. The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency cleared remdesivir under an early-access program. The drug was approved earlier this month in the US under a similar emergency-use program.

Mexico Economy Slumps Most Since 2009

Mexico is on track for its worst recession in nearly a century even after data showed the economy contracted a little less than estimated in the first quarter. Gross domestic product in the three months through March fell 1.2% compared with the previous quarter. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg and and preliminary data released last month both had estimated a 1.6% drop in the period.

On an annual, non-seasonally adjusted basis, GDP declined 1.4% during the quarter, compared with a 1.6% drop expected by economists. The slump captured only the beginning of the impact of a nationwide quarantine implemented to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. Economists estimate activity will plunge 7.6% this year, the most since the Great Depression.

Hospital Staff With COVID-19 Had Antibodies

Almost all doctors and nurses who got mild forms of COVID-19 produced antibodies that could prevent reinfection, according to a study in northeastern France. The study of 160 volunteers shows all but one developed antibodies within 15 days after the start of infection, Institut Pasteur and university hospitals in Strasbourg said in an early version of their findings released before peer review. Almost all staff tested had antibodies capable of neutralizing the virus within 41 days of developing symptoms.

The research addresses a crucial question regarding the new coronavirus: whether people who had COVID-19, and especially those who didn’t get severely ill, develop antibodies capable of protecting them against reinfection. The World Health Organization said on April 24 that there’s no evidence yet that people who have recovered and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.

Almost 96% of Fatalities in Italy Had Other Illnesses

The coronavirus outbreak in Italy has struck overwhelmingly among the nation’s older population and those with preexisting medical conditions, according to the national health authority. Almost 96% of the country’s virus fatalities had previous medical conditions, data from Italy’s ISS health institute show.

The ISS, which publishes a range of studies on the outbreak including a detailed weekly report, confirms a trend seen since the beginning of the emergency, with the average age of Italians who’ve died from the virus at around 80. “The latest numbers show that new cases and fatalities have a common profile: mostly elderly people with previous illnesses,” ISS chief Silvio Brusaferro said on Friday.

Merck Advances Vaccine Candidates

Merck & Co. moved to bolster the global fight against the coronavirus, unveiling development plans for a pill to the treat the infection and two vaccines to prevent it. The U.S. drugmaker bought rights to develop a promising antiviral discovered at Emory University and will work with partners to advance candidate vaccines based on the technology behind Ebola and measles immunizations.

“This is a global pandemic. No one country can solve it, and we can’t put borders around any one country,” Chief Executive Office Kenneth Frazier said by phone. “If we’re successful, we want to ensure broad, supportable access for whoever needs it, wherever they are.” Merck, which over the past century has pioneered inoculations to stop diseases from diphtheria to Ebola, started researching ways to thwart Covid-19 and has evaluated hundreds of potential vaccines, Frazier said.

Malaysia Cases Jump

Malaysia recorded the biggest daily jump in new coronavirus cases since April 3 as it increased testing on migrant workers. The country confirmed 187 new cases on Tuesday, of which 173 are from immigration detention centers, according to the health ministry. That raised the total to 7,604 infections while the number of deaths remained at 115.

The jump in cases comes three weeks after Malaysia relaxed lockdown measures and sparks concern of a surge in cases among migrant workers which many industries rely on for cheaper labor, including construction, restaurants and plantations. The country reported 172 new cases on Monday, after daily increases stayed below 100 for more than three weeks.

UK Retail Sales Plunge

Sales at clothing and furniture shops, as well as car showrooms, plunged again in May, according to the Confederation of British Industry. Its survey also revealed that 80% of firms are having cash-flow difficulties, and about half of retailers have temporarily laid off staff. The figures come a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out a timetable for the reopening of stores over the coming weeks.

Outdoor markets and car showrooms will be able to reopen from June 1, as soon as they are able to meet the coronavirus guidelines to protect shoppers and workers. All other non-essential retail outlets including shops selling clothes, furniture, books, and electronics, will be expected to be able to reopen from June 15 if the government can control the spread of the virus.