As the world’s largest economy swelled towards Great Depression-era levels amid an unprecedented collapse that has seen tens of millions out of jobs, another global power extended lockdown conditions while countries slowly considered how to reopen.
The coronavirus pandemic has now infected more than two million people worldwide and killed approximately 140,000, according to a tally by the United States’ Johns Hopkins University.
The United States
The US government said 5.2 million more Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the four-week total to about 22 million out of a work force of 159 million — easily the worst stretch of job losses on record in the country.
The losses translate to about one-in-seven workers nationwide.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is planning to announce an easing of the nation’s social-distancing recommendations to allow states to reopen for business.
While many Americans have chafed at the lockdowns and the damage to their livelihoods, others, including business leaders and governors, have warned that more testing and protective gear are needed first.
In the New York metropolitan area – the most lethal COVID-19 hot spot in the US, more encouraging signs are being seen.
The number of people in hospital with the virus dropped to around 18,000 statewide — well short of the apocalyptic projections — and new deaths were put at 600, compared with the mid- to high 700s last week.
“We’ve controlled the beast. We’ve brought the rate of spread down,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
While some leaders and citizens around the US have called on government to reopen stores, factories and schools — especially in rural areas and other parts of the country that have not seen major outbreaks — health authorities and many politicians warned that returning to normal is a distant goal and that lifting restrictions too soon could allow the virus to come storming back.
The decisions rest not with the White House but with state and local leaders, who imposed the mandatory lockdowns and other restrictions over the past month.
Mayor Bill de Blasio of hard-hit New York City, with more than one-third of the nation’s coronavirus deaths, was among those urging caution.
“Everyone wants our economy to restart… but there has to be a really clear understanding,” he said Thursday.
“If we can’t provide the basics for our people, then you can kiss your recovery goodbye.”
The hesitance comes as some governors have faced protests over their decisions to keep businesses closed, with demonstrators complaining that their livelihoods are being destroyed.
Up to an estimated 4000 people turned out this week to protest the Michigan governor’s restrictions, police broke up a demonstration in North Carolina that resulted in one arrest, and a rally was scheduled in Virginia on Thursday. Protests also took place in Oklahoma and Kentucky.
“This arbitrary blanket spread of shutting down businesses, about putting all of these workers out of business, is just a disaster. It’s an economic disaster for Michigan,” said protester Meshawn Maddock.
In New York, Cuomo said the current restrictions will be in place through May 15 and warned that any easing of the rules will require widespread testing, tracking of infected people, and other precautions.
“How do we unpause New York?” he said.
“First, do no harm. Don’t let that infection rate go up. Don’t lose the progress that you have made.”
Europe and Asia
Across the continent, the spread of the virus is declining in such places as Italy, Spain, France but is rising or continuing at a high level in Britain, Russia and Turkey, authorities said.
It comes as the economic damage has escalated around the world.
In France, Amazon suspended operations after a court ruled it wasn’t doing enough to protect its workers in the country. The online retailer has six warehouses in France.
In Britain, a government survey found that a quarter of companies had suspended business, while cargo traffic at Europe’s huge port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands sank more than nine per cent in the first quarter.
Many European countries have seen heavy job losses, but the social safety nets there are stronger.
Government subsidy programs in places like Germany and France are keeping millions of people on payrolls instead of letting them go on unemployment,
Political leaders on the continent are anxious to send people back to work and school and to rebuild devastated economies but are struggling to balance a country’s health and its wealth.
Italy’s hard-hit region of Lombardy is pushing to relaunch manufacturing on May 4, the day the national lockdown is set to end.
Regional officials are considering ordering companies to stagger opening hours to avoid cramming public transportation.
But Italy’s deputy economic development minister, Stefan Buffagni, called the plan premature: “Going in a random order risks fueling confusion among citizens and businesses.”
Britain, with over 13,700 dead, extended its nationwide lockdown on schools, pubs, restaurants and most stores for at least three more weeks as health officials said the outbreak was nearing its peak, and the move appeared to have wide public support.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, “Any change to our social distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus.”
In Switzerland, authorities announced a staggered series of reopenings, starting April 27 with medical and dental offices, hair salons and other select businesses, followed in May and June by other stores, schools, zoos, libraries and museums.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the transition is beginning,” Home and Health Minister Alain Berset said. “We want to go as fast as possible, and as slow as necessary.”
The outlook was less positive in Russia, however, after President Vladimir Putin postponed the country’s grand Victory Day parade May 9 in Red Square marking the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II.
Since Soviet times, Victory Day has been the nation’s most important holiday, reflecting its wartime losses, put at more than 27 million dead.
Other indicators have also suggested the worst has yet to come in some parts of the world.
Japan’s prime minister announced he would expand a state of emergency to the entire country, rather than just urban areas, as the virus continued to spread.
Japan has the world’s oldest population, and the elderly are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.
US Secretary-General Antonio Guterres meanwhile urged stepped-up preparations in Africa, warning that the continent “could end up suffering the greatest impacts.”
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