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Fed’s Powell warns of ‘lasting damage’ as Congress debates new big bang stimulus


Congress on Wednesday began a debate over a new round of coronavirus-fighting economic stimulus, as those infected closed in on 4.3 million worldwide, which prompted investors to rethink the wisdom of extending a recent rally.

The COVID-19 crisis, which has claimed over 293,000 lives worldwide, has brought the world’s largest economy to a standstill as officials weigh strategies to relax stay-at-home orders. In the U.S., cases continue to rise at a markedly slower clip, but are nearing 1.4 million with more than 82,000 dead.

On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told Congress that that a deep, long downturn could “leave behind lasting damage” to the economy, remarks that sent stocks sharply lower. In recent sessions, markets have reversed gains built on optimism that U.S. states could slowly end the lockdowns that have crushed the economy.

Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats have proposed an additional $3 trillion in new measures to combat the economic fallout, which has forced mass unemployment as businesses shut their doors. Amid divisions about where the money should go, the debate may spark another polarizing debate between lawmakers and the White House.

“Each day that Congress fails to act, states are being forced to make cuts that will devastate the essential services the American people rely on,” New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker told Yahoo Finance on Wednesday.

In California, public universities are shifting to remote learning for most classes in the upcoming fall semester — making them the first major higher education players to do so in response to the coronavirus outbreak, which also forced all educational institutions to shut their doors early.

There are over 1.3 million coronavirus cases in the U.S. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

California recently started the second phase of reopening — a significant move in one of the earliest outbreak hotspots in the country. But with more mobility, projections show a significant bump in expected deaths.

Vaccine companies currently developing and testing vaccines have said they anticipate a September emergency use authorization from the FDA, and are ramping up production of their vaccine candidates, at-risk, to meet the potential demand.

However, without an effective treatment, health experts believe it will be a tough task to reopen schools at any level.

Anthony Fauci, the nations top infectious disease expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Senators in a hearing that a good enough treatment or vaccine not be ready in time for the fall semester.

“The idea of having treatments available, or a vaccine, to facilitate the re-entry of students into the fall term, would be…a bit of a bridge too far,” Fauci said, adding that Gilead Science’s (GILD) breakthrough coronavirus treatment has only showed “moderate” results in treating the virus.

Gilead, Sanofi make moves

Late Tuesday, Gilead announced voluntary licensing deals with five generic drug manufacturers, including Mylan (MYL), to help meet the unprecedented global demand of its drug. The deal would ensure distribution to 127 countries of varying income levels, and gives manufacturers authority to set prices, without paying royalties, for a limited time.

“The licenses are royalty-free until the World Health Organization declares the end of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern regarding COVID-19, or until a pharmaceutical product other than remdesivir or a vaccine is approved to treat or prevent COVID-19, whichever is earlier,” the company said on its website.

Meanwhile, one major vaccine player, has said the U.S. would have first preference if and when its candidate succeeds. Sanofi (SNY) said because the U.S. government was among the first to invest in its vaccine candidate, it gives the country first rights to access the vaccine.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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