South Korea reported zero new locally transmitted infections

South Korea, once one of the hardest-hit countries in the coronavirus pandemic, reported no new cases on Thursday, boosting hopes of an eventual return to normality as US scientists hailed the results of a major drug trial.The good medical news caused equities to rally, despite mounting deaths worldwide and abysmal economic figures caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

Data showed the pandemic, which has killed more than 224,000 people, has plunged the United States into its worst economic slump in a decade, and has left Germany expecting its biggest recession since the aftermath of World War II.

But for the first time since the new disease was detected there in mid-February, South Korea reported zero new infections.

The East Asian nation had the world's second-largest coronavirus outbreak for a period after the virus emerged in China late last year. But with an aggressive test-and-trace strategy and widespread social distancing, it has managed to bring the spread of the pathogen under control.

"This is the strength of South Korea and its people," said President Moon Jae-in as he announced the milestone.

Meanwhile in the first proof of successful treatment, a clinical trial of the drug remdesivir showed that patients recovered about 30 percent faster than those on a placebo.

"The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery," said Anthony Fauci, the top US epidemiologist.

South Korea's virus death toll is around 250 -- vastly lower than that of Italy, Britain, Spain and France, which have each recorded more than 24,000 fatalities, and the United States, topping the table with a third of global deaths.

Other parts of the region have seen similar success in their fight against the virus.

Infections have dwindled in China after it imposed extremely strict lockdown measures on millions of people earlier this year. Its official toll is around 4,600, although doubt has been cast on the figures' accuracy.

Hong Kong, a city of seven million where there have been just four virus deaths, reported no new cases for the fifth straight day on Thursday.

However the economic costs are beginning to mount, raising fears of an era-defining global crash and increasing pressure worldwide to ease lockdowns despite fears of a second wave of contagion.

Experts have also warned of longer-term psychological tolls on both children and adults after weeks or even months in isolation.

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