Washington approves virus drug as US states ease lockdowns

The approval is the latest step in a global push to find viable treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 8, 2020 one vial of the drug Remdesivir lies during a press conference about the start of a study with the Ebola drug Remdesivir in particularly severely ill patients at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, northern Germany, amidst the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

 The experimental drug remdesivir has been authorized by US regulators for emergency use against COVID-19, President Donald Trump announced on May 1, 2020. / AFP / POOL / Ulrich Perrey
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American authorities have approved an experimental drug for emergency use on coronavirus patients, as more US states eased pandemic lockdowns despite another spike in deaths from the disease.

The approval is the latest step in a global push to find viable treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown, hammered the world economy and infected more than 3.3 million people.

Remdesivir, an antiviral drug initially developed to treat Ebola, was given the green light on Friday after a major trial found that it boosted recovery in serious Covid-19 patients.

"It's really a very promising situation," President Donald Trump said on Friday at the White House, where he was joined by Daniel O'Day, CEO of Gilead Sciences, which developed Remdesivir.

The drug incorporates itself into the virus's genome, short-circuiting its replication process.

Its approval came as the US leaders struggled with growing pressure from citizens wearying of stay-at-home orders.

With about 1.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 65,000 deaths, the United States has the highest tolls of any country, and Trump is keen for a turnaround as the world's largest economy reels with tens of millions left jobless.

"Hopefully, we're going to come in below that 100,000 lives lost, which is a horrible number nevertheless," said Trump, after suggesting earlier in the week the country could expect 60,000 or 70,000 fatalities.

Texas became the largest US state yet to ease curbs, while anti-lockdown demonstrations were held in several states - including California, where officials had re-closed beaches beginning Friday to avoid a repeat of last weekend when crowds flocked to the shoreline.

In Huntington Beach, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of Los Angeles, several thousand people rallied to denounce Governor Gavin Newsom's beach shutdown order.

"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," protester Monica Beilhard fumed.

"It was uncalled for, unnecessary and people out here are making that known," she said.

Governments around the world are struggling to balance the immense political and economic pressure to ease lockdowns with the need for public health measures against the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 236,000 people.

Several European countries have begun to lift restrictions, with authorities in some of the hardest-hit parts like Spain reporting signs that the pandemic there was slowing.

Britain announced that it had hit its target of conducting 100,000 coronavirus tests a day, a step toward eventually lifting lockdown rules in the UK - which this week overtook Spain to record the world's third-highest death toll.

But Ireland extended its lockdown by two weeks to May 18, with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar saying the nation will reopen "in a slow, phased, staged way" after that.

In Asia, India announced that the lockdown on its 1.3 billion people - the world's biggest - would continue for two more weeks from May 4.

And in Singapore, the government said Saturday that pet food stores and hair salons will be allowed to reopen on May 12.

Most of the city-state's infections have been detected at dormitories housing migrant workers, and their confinement was extended to June 1.

The virus restrictions also put a damper on May Day celebrations worldwide on Friday as many labor unions delayed their rallies and some held online events, while a determined few hit the streets in facemasks in defiance of lockdown orders.

May Day carried extra significance this year because of the staggering number of people put out of work by the pandemic, with the global economy in a tailspin and facing its worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Stock markets tumbled again on Friday after President Trump's unproven allegation that the virus may have come from a lab in Wuhan - the central Chinese city where the disease first emerged late last year.

Beijing has rejected the accusation, and scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans.

The White House has accused Chinese authorities of mishandling the outbreak and putting American lives at risk.

The disease overwhelmed healthcare infrastructure when it hit the United States, putting immense pressure on medical workers.

Some US medics relied on experience in other countries to fight the virus.

David Callaway, a doctor and academic who formerly worked on disease response in conflict-hit nations such as South Sudan and Iraq, said he found overseas epidemics easier to handle in some ways.

"Family and loved ones, you can put them in a box and you use them as a source of motivation and inspiration when things get rough, but you know they are safe," he told AFP.

"A pandemic at home, you know that your family and your loved ones are still at risk, their lives hang on the line."