Pandemic Job Losses Hit New High

Pandemic Job Losses Hit New High

NEW YORK (AP) -- Discouraging results from a study into a possible coronavirus treatment and fresh data showing one in six American workers have lost their jobs tempered relief Friday over the passage by Congress of a nearly $500 billion spending package to help embattled businesses and hospitals.

In a trend seen around the globe, roughly 26 million Americans — the population of the 10 biggest U.S. cities combined — have filed for jobless aid in five weeks, pushing unemployment to levels last seen during the Great Depression of the 1930s and raising the stakes over how and when to ease shutdowns of factories and other businesses.

Dampening hopes for discovery of an effective treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, results of a Chinese study on the antiviral drug remdesivir (rehm-DEHZ'-ih-veer), found no positive effect, though the sample size was too small to draw scientifically valid conclusions.

The data came from documents published accidentally by the World Health Organization and reported Thursday by the Financial Times. The Foster City, Calif.-based company behind the drug, Gilead Sciences, said the data represented "inappropriate characterizations" of the China study. It is conducting tests in several places around the world.

The news cut short a rally in share prices on Wall Street powered by near-unanimous approval by lawmakers, many in face masks and bandannas, of the latest coronavirus spending package. The law was sent to President Donald Trump in the evening.

Anchoring the bill is a $250 billion request by the Trump administration to replenish a fund to help small- and medium-size businesses with payroll, rent and other expenses. Trump said the bill "will help small businesses to keep millions of workers on the payroll."

He was expected to sign the bill on Friday.

The coronavirus has killed more than 190,000 people worldwide, including more than 100,000 in Europe and nearly 50,000 in the United States, according to a tally compiled by John Hopkins University from official government figures. The true numbers are almost certainly far higher, and new cases are surging in Africa and Latin America as infections subside in some places hit by early outbreaks.

In the U.S., the economic consequences of the shutdowns have sparked angry rallies in state capitals by protesters demanding that businesses reopen, and Trump has expressed impatience over the restrictions.

Some U.S. governors have begun loosening up despite warnings from health authorities that it may be too soon to do so without sparking a second wave of infections. In Georgia, gyms, hair salons and bowling alleys can reopen Friday. Texas has reopened its state parks.

In northern Colorado, a major meatpacking plant that closed because of an outbreak that killed four workers was set to reopen Friday after a two-week disinfection, even as some questioned how employees can maintain social distancing inside the facility.

On the economic front, few experts foresee a downturn as severe as the Great Depression, when unemployment remained above 14% from 1931 to 1940, peaking at 25%. But unemployment is considered likely to remain elevated well into next year and probably beyond, and will surely top the 10% peak of the 2008-09 recession.

Janet Simon, laid off as a waitress at a Miami IHOP restaurant, said she has just $200 and is getting panic attacks over how she will care for her three children. Simon, 33, filed for unemployment a month ago, and her application is still listed as "pending."

"I'm doing everything to keep my family safe, my children safe, but everything else around me is falling apart," Simon said. "But they see it, no matter how much I try to hide my despair."

Corey Williams, 31, lost his warehouse job in Michigan a month ago and saw his rent, insurance and other bills pile up while he anxiously awaited his unemployment benefits. That finally happened on Wednesday, and he quickly paid $1,700 in bills.

"It was getting pretty tight, pretty tight," he said. "It was definitely stressful for the last few days."

Huge lines have formed at food banks from El Paso, Texas, to the Paris suburbs, and food shortages are hitting Africa especially hard.

In Africa, COVID-19 cases have surged 43% in the past week to 26,000, according to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figures underscored a recent warning from the World Health Organization that the virus could kill more than 300,000 people in Africa and push 30 million into desperate poverty.

Across the Muslim world, the pandemic was casting a shadow over the holy month of Ramadan — marked by daytime fasting, overnight festivities and communal prayer. Ramadan begins for the world's 1.8 billion Muslims with this week's new moon. Many Muslim leaders have closed mosques or banned collective evening prayer to ward off infections.

The virus has already disrupted Christianity's Holy Week, Judaism's Passover, the Muslim hajj pilgrimage and other major religious events.

While the health crisis has eased in places like Italy, Spain and France, experts say it is far from over, and the threat of new outbreaks looms large.

"The question is not whether there will be a second wave," said Dr. Hans Kluge, the head of the WHO's Europe office. "The question is whether we will take into account the biggest lessons so far."

Some German states were moving too quickly to reopen, said Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government has won praise for how it has handled the pandemic and how its death toll has remained much lower than in other large European countries.

"We're not living in the final phase of the pandemic, but still at the beginning," Merkel warned. "It would be a shame if premature hope ultimately punishes us all."

In the hardest-hit corner of the U.S., evidence emerged that perhaps 2.7 million New York state residents have been infected by the virus — 10 times the number confirmed by lab tests.

A small, preliminary statewide survey of around 3,000 people found that nearly 14% had antibodies showing they had been infected, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Just in New York City, with a population of 8.6 million, Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said as many as 1 million may have been infected.

(KR)