Pandemic destroys US jobs as Germany urges unity
May 08 2020 05:39 PM
A Washington State Patrol officer picks up potatoes for the dispatchers as volunteers hand out potat
A Washington State Patrol officer picks up potatoes for the dispatchers as volunteers hand out potatoes donated by Washington potato farmers who are giving away a million pounds of excess potatoes, as a result of the food service industry slowdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak, in Auburn, Washington

AFP/Washington

The coronavirus epidemic sent US jobless totals soaring to historic highs Friday, increasing pressure on authorities to follow Europe in phasing out lockdown measures despite still climbing American death tolls.
Germany, meanwhile, marked the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe with a call for global cooperation to beat the virus, as Washington and Beijing continue to wrangle over the blame for its spread.
The US Labor Department reported that the lockdown, which at its peak froze business and social life for half the planet, has wiped out 20.5 million jobs leaving the world's largest economy with a historic 14.7 percent unemployment rate.
Neighbouring Canada also shed three million jobs, bringing its rate up to 13.1 percent, and this follows a warning earlier in the week from Brussels that Europe has plunged into a massive recession.
US President Donald Trump played down the fall, telling Fox News in an interview moments after the numbers were published: "It's fully expected, there's no surprise ... I'll bring it back."
But the United States has already seen protests against the lockdown, which public health experts see as vital to halt the coronavirus' spread, despite the country now having a confirmed death toll of 75,543 from at least 1,254,750 cases, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The devastating US figures were published as much of Europe slowed down to mark 75 years to the end since the end of World War II on the continent under the cloud of the virus, which forced the cancellation of traditional victory parades in many cities.
In Germany, where the memorial is a sombre reflection on the country's rescue from Nazi rule, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier drew a parallel between the war and the new scourge that has already killed nearly 270,000 people around the world.
"For us Germans, 'never again' means 'never again alone'," Steinmeier said at a Berlin ceremony. "If we don't hold Europe together, including during and after this pandemic, then we are not living up to May 8.
"We want more, not less cooperation in the world -- also in the fight against the pandemic."
Far from bringing the world together, the epidemic that has infected 3.8 million has triggered a war of words between China, where the epidemic began, and the United States, where it is at its worst.
Trump has dubbed the outbreak the "worst attack we've ever had" and blamed China for failing to stop its spread, suggesting that it may have escaped from a Chinese laboratory.
China rejects the charge, and America's allies are not convinced.
According to German news weekly Der Spiegel, citing a leaked internal memo, Germany's defence ministry and spy agency see Trump's claim as a "calculated attempt to distract" from Washington's own failings.
Nevertheless, on Friday China said it would now support a review led by the World Health Organization into the global response to the outbreak, albeit only "after the pandemic is over".
While parts of Europe appeared to be over the hump of new infections and deaths, the toll in the United States shows no signs of slowing, and Brazil is warning of chaos with the pandemic running out of control.
"Within about 30 days, there may start to be shortages on shelves and production may become disorganised, leading to a system of economic collapse, of social disorder," Brazil's economy minister Paulo Guedes said.
Brazil is Latin America's worst-affected nation, with more than 135,000 infections and 9,100 confirmed deaths, although experts say the true figures are much higher.
But far-right President Jair Bolsonaro opposes stay-at-home measures to slow the spread, saying they are unnecessarily damaging the economy.
Trump is also pushing for lockdowns to be lifted, as he tries to steady the economy ahead of November elections.
"This country can't stay closed and locked down for years," he said Thursday, as the US death toll topped 75,000.
Across Europe, many countries are now easing restrictions, with some shops and schools reopening, Italy allowing Catholics to soon attend mass, and Norway to open up pubs on June 1.
Denmark said Friday it would allow cinemas, museums and zoos to open from June 8, as it also eased restrictions on group gatherings.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to offer a roadmap out of lockdown on Sunday.
The easing has already begun in Germany, while France is due on Monday to start emerging from its lockdown, though Paris will remain restricted.
Russia had originally planned a huge military display to mark its May 9 Victory Day, but now only a flypast will take place over Red Square.
President Vladimir Putin will lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier memorial, before making a TV address that will not only touch on the war, but is also expected to chart out the country's next steps in battling the virus.
Most of Europe has seen significant drops in new infections, but cases are on the rise in Russia, with another 10,000 reported Thursday.
Moscow's lockdown has been extended until May 31.
In Asia, life was creeping back to normal.
Hong Kong, which acted quickly against the outbreak allowed gyms and bars to reopen on Friday, with some drinking spots serving their first customers at 12:01 am.
"I'm so happy. I've not been here for a long time," one customer gushed as he tucked into a much-anticipated drink shortly after midnight.
Drinkers in Australia's Northern Territory were awaiting beer deliveries ahead of the reopening of pubs next Friday.
That was part of a national three-stage plan to get the economy back to a new "Covid-safe" normal by the end of July.
In Pakistan, a continued shortage of alcohol was sparking price gouging.
The annual booze shortage that comes during the holy month of Ramadan is being compounded by a lockdown that has halted the flow of duty-free bottles from incoming travellers.
"I checked with four bootleggers," lamented a 25-year-old student in Islamabad.
"Three had run out and the last one was offering 24 cans for 15,000 rupees ($95)."



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