European governments promised more relief to their citizens on Thursday as a top U.S. immunologist told Congress that America faces its “darkest winter in modern history” unless leaders act decisively to prevent a rebound of the coronavirus.
France’s government announced an 18-billion-euro ($19.4 billion) plan to support restaurants, hotels and other tourist facilities which have been closed since mid-March amid the coronavirus crisis.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe promised the French on Thursday that they will be able to go on vacation in France in July and August, including in French overseas territories, as the country has started lifting its lockdown this week.
Germany’s parliament approved plans to increase the amount paid to people who spend months in a government-backed short-time work program during the coronavirus crisis.
Companies are making extensive use of the program, which was credited with keeping down unemployment in the financial crisis over a decade ago. It allows them to keep employees on the payroll while they await better times.
Those announcements came after Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte promised a massive package of tax cuts and other financial aid to help businesses and families. “Your cry of alarm didn’t escape us,” Conte said late Wednesday.
His government also promised to legalize the status of foreigners, many of them illegal migrants who are crop-pickers, baby-sitters and caretakers.
Italy is one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus. But U.S. has the largest coronavirus outbreak in the world by far: 1.39 million infections and over 84,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 4.3 million people and killed some 297,000. Experts say the actual numbers are likely far higher.
In Washington, Dr. Rick Bright, a top U.S. immunologist who says he lost his government job because he warned the Trump administration to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic, told Congress the U.S. lacks a plan to produce and fairly distribute a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available.
“Our window of opportunity is closing,” Bright said in his prepared testimony.. “If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities.”
Bright, wearing a protective mask, testified Thursday before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. Aspects of his complaint about early administration handling of the crisis were expected to be backed up by testimony from an executive of a company that manufactures respirator masks.
Bright’s testimony follows a warning earlier in the week from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, that rushing to lift store-closing and stay-at-home restrictions could “turn back the clock,” and lead to more suffering and death and complicating efforts to get the economy rolling again.
But the pressure is on to staunch job losses after the U.S. unemployment rate soared to 14.7% in April, the highest since the Great Depression. Another nearly 3 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week as the viral outbreak led more companies to slash jobs even though most U.S. states have begun to let some businesses reopen under certain restrictions.
Roughly 36 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the U.S. in the two months since the coronavirus first forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink their work forces, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday.
The fallout from the pandemic includes heightened political tensions between nations.
In China, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, criticized the United States, saying authorities there have failed to effectively fight the global coronavirus pandemic and “abused American people’s trust.”
Zhao appeared to be firing back against accusations from the Trump administration that China mishandled or deliberately delayed releasing information about the outbreak, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
Zhao said the U.S. should “focus more on fighting the epidemic and safeguarding the lives and health of the American people, and stop playing such buck-passing game.”
Australia said it will push for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus even if it hurts trade relations with China. Prime Minister Scott Morrison had been accused of playing “deputy sheriff” to the United States after calling for the inquiry.
Morrison brushed off the criticism, telling reporters: “We have always been independent, we have always pursued our national interests, and we always will.”
The world’s public health measures continue to provoke conflict between officials and the public.
In Ethiopia, police said they arrested over 1,000 people for refusing to wear face masks in public, while in Greece a spat broke out over a government plan to install cameras in high school classrooms. The idea is to provide live-streaming to allow for reduced classroom attendance when schools reopen next week. But a privacy watchdog and a left-wing opposition party called cameras a serious privacy risk.
In many parts of the world, communities and individuals were finding inventive ways to cope with what many view as a “new normal.”
Apartment dwellers in Rio de Janeiro were getting some much-needed entertainment from children’s movies projected onto screens set up outside their buildings, similar to a drive-in theater.
Cesar Miranda Ribeiro, president of city-owned RioFilme company, said the effort, called “Cinema in the Windows,” is aimed at “trying to take care of the mental health of the people.”
Chinese people looking for some stay-at-home retail therapy have tuned into livestream shopping.
Others seeking spiritual support and human connections are worshipping remotely via online religious services, including from the Vatican to village churches.
“People in general, I think, are looking for more meaning and spirituality in the midst of all this,” said Omar Suleiman, an Islamic leader in Irving, Texas, whose Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research has been uploading YouTube videos. “So I think there’s just a general increase in religiosity and consumption of religious content.”
For most leaders, though, the focus was a far more worldly one: how to get back to business and revive economies reeling from record numbers of job losses and chilling uncertainty.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday announced the lifting of an ongoing state of emergency in most parts of the country ahead of schedule.
Abe lifted the measure for 39 of the country’s 47 prefectures, effective immediately, while keeping the measure in place for eight others, including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido, where risks still remain high.
In New Zealand, malls, retail stores and restaurants reopened Thursday and many people returned to their workplaces as the nation of 5 million people ended most of its coronavirus lockdown restrictions.