Merck CEO on how US can avoid coronavirus outbreak like Italy’s

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Kenneth Frazier, chairman and CEO of U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck, is appealing to every American to take coronvavirus precautions for the benefit of society.

“Right now, we have the power as citizens to …. slow the spread of this virus,” Frazier told CNBC on Wednesday, stressing the best practices of hand-washing and social-distancing as things everyone must do.

“That’s what we can do in the next week, month, etc., to ensure we actually don’t have the kind of situation that we see in Italy,” he said on “Squawk on the Street.” 

Italy, where officials have put in place a nationwide lockdown, is home to the second-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases outside of mainland China, where the disease originated in December.

Italy has more than 31,000 cases, including over 2,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. China has more than 81,000 confirmed cases, including over 3,200 deaths. 

The U.S. has more than 6,500 confirmed cases and more than 100 deaths as of Wednesday morning. 

Frazier said the pharmaceutical industry “has really swung into action” with its efforts to develop treatments for COVID-19. 

Companies such as Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are working on vaccines, while Regeneron is working on a therapeutic for COVID-19. 

Frazier said Merck, which received FDA approval for its Ebola vaccine in December, has a lot of experience developing antiviral medicines and is putting it to use to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

“We have a vast library and we’re going to continue to test those assets to see if any of them have effectiveness against this particular coronavirus,” he said. 

Frazier also praised health workers across the country who are caring for sick patients. But the American people, he said, “are the first line of defense, with respect to our own hygiene.” 

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