US job losses mount as Trump presses plan to reopen business

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A sign announces a coronavirus closure at a flower shop in Jay, Maine, on April 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
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An aerial view of the BWI2 Amazon Fulfillment Center employing about 2,500 workers in the Chesapeake Commerce Center in Baltimore, Maryland. (AFP / Getty Images)
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Updated 17 April 2020

US job losses mount as Trump presses plan to reopen business

  • 5.2 million more Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week
  • Trump plans to ease social-distancing guidelines to allow states to start getting back to business over the next several weeks

WASHINGTON: The ranks of America’s unemployed swelled toward Great Depression-era levels Thursday, and President Donald Trump reacted to the pressure on the economy by outlining a phased approach to reopening parts of the country where the coronavirus is being brought under control.
Under the plan, presented by Trump in a call with the nation’s governors, the president will ease his social-distancing guidelines to allow states to start getting back to business over the next several weeks in places that have strong testing and have seen a decrease in COVID-19 cases.
“You’re going to call your own shots,” Trump told the governors, according to an audio recording obtained by The Associated Press, after a week in which he clashed with them over his claim that he has “total” authority over how and when the country reopens.
The move came on the same day the government reported 5.2 million more Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the four-week total to 22 million — easily the worst stretch of US job losses on record. The losses translate to about 1 in 7 American workers.
The bleak picture intensified the debate over how and when to start lifting the lockdowns and other restrictions that have all but strangled the economy.
While many Americans have chafed at the damage to their livelihoods, business leaders and governors have warned that more testing and protective gear are needed first. And health experts have cautioned that easing the restrictions too soon could allow the virus to come storming back.

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“My No. 1 focus is to keep my family safe, so I’m really not in a hurry to put an end to this,” said Denise Stockwell, who is about to lose her job in marketing at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
But conservative economist Steven Moore, a Trump ally, said there will be 30 million people out of work in the country if the economy doesn’t open back up soon. “And that is a catastrophic outcome for our country. Period,” he said. “You’re going to have social chaos.”
Worldwide, the outbreak has infected more than 2.1 million people and killed more than 140,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, though the true numbers are believed to be much higher. The death toll in the US reached about 31,000, with around 650,000 confirmed infections.
The spread of the virus is declining in such places as Italy, Spain and France, but is rising or continuing at a high level in Britain, Russia and Turkey, authorities said.
In other developments:
— Vladimir Putin postponed Russia’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.
— New York, the most lethal hot spot in the US, reported more encouraging signs, with a drop in the daily number of deaths statewide and the overall count of people in the hospital. “We’ve controlled the beast. We’ve brought the rate of spread down,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Still, Cuomo extended the state’s lockdown through at least May 15, and New York City is lining up 11,000 empty hotel rooms to quarantine people living in crowded apartment buildings.
— Police acting on an anonymous tip found at least 18 bodies over two days at a nursing home in Andover Township, New Jersey. Corpses were packed into a room used to hold the dead until they can be picked by a funeral home.
Under the new Trump administration road map, places that are turning the corner on the virus would begin a three-phase gradual reopening of businesses and schools, with each phase lasting at least 14 days, to ensure that the outbreak doesn’t make a resurgence.
Many Americans, especially in rural areas and other parts of the country that have not seen major outbreaks, have called on governors to reopen their economies. More than 3,000 turned out this week to decry the Michigan governor’s restrictions, police broke up a demonstration in North Carolina, and protests also took place in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Virginia.
“Those people that know they’re vulnerable, self-quarantine. And everybody else, let them go back to work,” Aaron Carver, a laid-off construction worker said at a protest in Richmond, Virginia.
The decision of whether to relax the restrictions rests not with the White House but with the state and local leaders who imposed them in the first place. Seven Midwestern governors announced Thursday that they will coordinate on reopening their economies, after similar pacts were reached among states in the Northeast and on the West Coast.
Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, said the White House guidelines “seem to make sense,” adding that states are “days, maybe weeks away from the starting line,” while West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Trump ally, said capacity and contact tracing would need to be considerably ramped up before restrictions could be safely lifted.
“All would be forgotten very quickly if we moved into a stage quicker than we should, and then we got into a situation where we had people dying like flies,” Justice said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio of 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,” he said. But “if we can’t provide the basics for our people, then you can kiss your recovery goodbye.”
Two in three Americans expressed concerns that restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus would be eased too quickly, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday.
Economists said the unemployment rate could reach 20% in April, the highest since the Depression of the 1930s. Layoffs are spreading well beyond stores, restaurants and hotels to white-collar professionals such as software programmers and legal assistants.
“It’s just shut down everything, turned off the whole city,” said Jacques Primo, 40, who was laid off from his bartending job at a Savannah, Georgia, seafood restaurant and found himself in line at a food pantry. “Before, I’ve never been worried, because I’ll go find another job. Now you can’t. It’s impossible.”
By all accounts, the lifting of restrictions, when it happens, won’t be like flipping a switch. Restaurants and other businesses may be reopened in phases, with perhaps a limited number of entrances or reduced seating areas, while grocery stores may stick with one-way aisles and protective shields at the cash registers, experts say.
Even then, it could take awhile before business comes back, if China and certain places in Europe are any indication.
Jeremiah Juncker, manager of the Rappourt pub in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wonders whether anyone would come if he were even allowed to reopen.
“It might be ‘back to normal’ for everyone else, but people still don’t feel comfortable gathering at restaurants and bars,” he said.
Many European countries, like the US, have seen heavy job losses, but places like Germany and France are using government subsidies to keep millions of people on payrolls instead of letting them go on unemployment.
But political leaders on the Continent are still trying to find a balance between their country’s health and its wealth.
Italy’s hard-hit Lombardy region is pushing to restart manufacturing when the nationwide lockdown ends in early May, while Britain, with over 13,700 dead, extended its nationwide lockdown for at least three more weeks.
Swiss authorities announced a staggered series of reopenings.
“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.”


Over 1 million marooned in Bangladesh as floods worsen

Updated 14 July 2020

Over 1 million marooned in Bangladesh as floods worsen

  • Water levels at major rivers were rising Tuesday at around two dozen points in 20 districts
  • Bangladesh is crisscrossed by 230 rivers, including 53 shared with India

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Heavy flooding is worsening in parts of Bangladesh, with over 1 million villagers marooned or leaving their homes for higher ground along with their cattle and other belongings, officials and volunteers said Tuesday.
Water levels at major rivers were rising Tuesday at around two dozen points in 20 districts. Many new areas in northern, northeastern and central Bangladesh have been affected over last 24 hours, Arifuzzman Bhuiyan, an executive engineer with the Water Development Board, said by phone. Bangladesh has 64 districts.
“The situation is worsening," he said. “The worst thing is that the floods are getting prolonged this year, which is a bad sign.”
Bhuiyan said heavy rainfall and rushing waters from upstream India were the main reasons for the floods in the delta nation of 160 million people, which receives monsoon rains between June and October every year, often leading to flooding.
The floods started late last month, and after briefly easing continued to worsen, affecting many new areas, destroying crops and driving people from their homes in several impoverished regions. Bangladesh is crisscrossed by 230 rivers, including 53 shared with India.
In the northern district of Kurigram, one of the worst-hit areas, thousands of villagers have moved from their homes to higher ground since the weekend, bringing along their cattle and other belongings, said Mizanur Rahman Soikat, project coordinator with the Bidyanondo Foundation, a local charity. The foundation has been distributing both cooked and dry food to the flood-affected villagers, many of whom have lost their crops and livelihood.
Soikat said that over the last few weeks, the charity has distributed food to some 135,000 people in Kurigram, while the government’s relief office was also providing food, cash and cattle food.
“Over last two days, the situation has deteriorated and many villages went underwater in the district," he said by phone. “I have seen thousands taking shelter.”
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement Monday that more than a million Bangladeshis have been marooned by the floods, with the worst of it happening since the weekend.
“Thousands of people are expected to leave their homes throughout the beginning of this week to seek shelter in higher ground as the Water Development Board warned that the onrush of water from upstream would further intensify,” the statement said.
A.T.M. Akhteruzzman, a relief and rehabilitation officer in the northern district of Rangpur, said about 50,000 people who live along the Teesta River basin have been marooned.
“Waters are coming from India, while heavy rainfalls in the region are causing havoc,” he said. “We are trying to do our best to stand by the people, as we have already provided more than 300 tons of rice, cattle food, baby food and a good amount of cash. Our relief operations will continue."