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.”


Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

Updated 08 July 2020

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

  • Devastated family mourn latest victim of health system struggling to cope with outbreak

NEW DELHI: The death of an expectant mom and her unborn child after 13 hospitals in one day refused to treat her has put India’s strained health care system under the spotlight.

The devastated husband and 6-year-old child of eight-month pregnant Neelam Singh, 30, are still struggling to come to terms with the “unwarranted loss” a month after her agonizing death in an ambulance outside a hospital in New Delhi.

With more than 100,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Indian capital, Singh became another victim of a health system battling to cope with patient demand due to a lack of bed space and infrastructure.

That, however, has been little comfort for her family members who said they would never be able to overcome the trauma.

“Those 12 hours were the most traumatic experience of our lives, and we have to live with that trauma,” Shailendra Kumar, Singh’s brother-in-law, told Arab News on Tuesday. Singh had developed complications with her pregnancy on June 5, and Kumar said she was rushed to the same hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh where she had been going for regular checkups, but was turned away.

“Shivalik (hospital) gave no reason for refusing to admit her. Despite our pleadings, the hospital did not budge from its stand,” Kumar added.

A day-long ordeal ensued, with one hospital after the other unable to treat her. Eventually, she died in an ambulance some 35 kilometers away from her home in Khoda.

“I took her to 13 hospitals, both government and private facilities, and every one refused to admit her. The image of her writhing in pain will always haunt me,” said Kumar, who was accompanied by Singh’s husband. He added that the reasons provided varied from “high costs” to a lack of facilities.

“One hospital told me that I could not pay the high cost so better try my luck somewhere else. At Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida, I was asked to buy a coupon for COVID-19 treatment for 4,500 rupees ($60), which I did, but still, they refused her entry. It was not the loss of one life but two lives,” he said, referring to her unborn child.

He pointed out that the entire family was in a state of shock following her death with her husband “the worst impacted.”

Kumar filed a complaint against Shivalik and other hospitals but said so far “no action has been taken.”

A day after Singh’s death, the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, which Noida falls under, ordered an inquiry and issued instructions for all hospitals “to admit patients regardless of the nature of the case.”

However, 20 days later, on June 26, a similar incident was reported in the Dadri area of Noida.

On that occasion, 21-year-old Robin Bhati had developed a fever, and relatives had taken him to a nearby hospital where a week earlier he had been admitted suffering from influenza. However, the hospital refused to admit him and referred him to a different facility.

Five hours and four hospitals later, a city hospital agreed to take him in, but by then Bhati was already seriously ill and hours later he died after suffering a heart attack.

“We don’t know whether he was a COVID-19 patient or not, but why should hospitals refuse to admit a patient in need of immediate attention,” his uncle Jasveer Bhati told Arab News. A number of the Noida hospitals which allegedly denied admission to Singh and Bhati refused to comment on the cases.

In a statement on Monday, the office of Noida’s chief medical officer said: “Strict instructions have been given to all the private and government hospitals to admit all patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr. Loveleen Mangla, a pulmonologist working with Noida-based Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, said: “The government did not prepare itself to face this situation. Now the government is trying to create extra beds and medical facilities, but it’s late. They should have done this three months ago when the nationwide lockdown started.

“With the entire medical infrastructure overstretched and not many quality health workers available in the government hospitals, it’s a grim scenario now,” Mangla added.

With more than 723,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, India is now the world’s third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil, with approaching 21,000 people losing their lives.

And the problem is not unique to northern India.

On Saturday, the southern Indian city of Bangalore reported the case of 50-year-old Vasantha, who was rejected by 13 hospitals before she was accepted by the K.C. General Hospital where she eventually died.

Lalitha, a relative of Vasantha, said: “Some hospitals said they didn’t have beds; some said they didn’t have COVID-19 testing facilities, and that way we lost critical hours. She died because of a problem with her respiratory system.”

Experts have questioned whether health care facilities in India are being overstretched purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anant Bhan, a Delhi-based independent researcher in global health, policy and bioethics, said: “Is there a real shortage of beds or is it the shortage caused by lack of efficient management? If the cases increase further, we might find it difficult to provide care.”