Brent crude prices climbed on Wednesday to the highest level seen in five months as tropical storms headed towards the key US petroleum infrastructure region of the US Gulf Coast to cause major oil facility shutdowns and output cuts.

International benchmark Brent crude was trading at $46.38 per barrel at 0605 GMT for a 0.19% increase after closing Tuesday at $46.29 a barrel.

American benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI), on the other hand, fell slightly by 0.09% to $43.31 a barrel at the same from $43.35 per barrel during the previous trading session.

Expected to strengthen into a major hurricane, Tropical Storm Laura started heading towards the Gulf of Mexico causing a halt in production on many offshore platforms and oil rigs in the area that contains more than half of the country’s petroleum refining capacity.

According to the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), approximately 84.3% of the current oil production and 60.9% of the natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico were shut-in.

Currently rated a Category 2, Tropical Storm Laura was reported by the National Hurricane Center as “rapidly intensifying” over the Gulf of Mexico early Wednesday, and is expected to “produce a life-threatening storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding over eastern Texas and Louisiana.”

Antibody drug clinical trial starts

Developments in the treatment of the COVID-19 outbreak and the phone call between the US and China regarding the first phase trade deal also reflected positively to boost oil prices.

The British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca started clinical trials of an antibody drug to prevent and treat COVID-19.

The drug called AZD7442 has the potential to act both as a vaccine and treatment for COVID-19.

The first volunteers, 48 healthy Britons aged between 18 and 55, have already been given their first doses in the trial that aims to research the drug’s safety and the body’s reaction to it.

After a phone call between the US and Chinese officials to address concerns regarding the Phase 1 trade agreement reached between the two nations in January, the two countries declared positive progress and constructive dialogue regarding the deal.

The number of COVID-19 cases worldwide is now close to 24 million, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

While the US still tops the number of cases with 5.7 million as of Tuesday morning, Brazil has more than 3.6 million cases, and India follows with more than 3.2 million cases.

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