COVID throws 16.8 m Americans out of work

NEW YORK, United States (AP) — A staggering 16.8 million Americans have been thrown onto the unemployment rolls in just three weeks, underscoring the terrifying speed with which the coronavirus outbreak has brought world economies to their knees.

Meanwhile, world leaders and health officials fervently warned that the hard-won gains against the scourge must not be jeopardised by relaxing social distancing during Easter weekend, one of the busiest travel times of the year in Europe.

Authorities across the continent banned holiday travel and set up roadblocks.

A spike in deaths in Britain and New York and surges of reported new infections in Japan and in India’s congested cities made it clear the battle is far from over.

New York state reported 799 more deaths, its third straight day of record-high fatalities.

More than 7,000 people have died in the state, accounting for almost half the US death toll of around 15,000.

“That is so shocking and painful and breathtaking, I don’t even have the words for it,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, though he added that there are hopeful signs, including slowdowns in the number of people being hospitalised and being admitted to intensive care, and that hospitals are standing up to the strain so far.

Numbers released Thursday by the world’s largest economy showed that 6.6 million American workers applied for unemployment benefits last week, on top of more than 10 million in the two weeks before that.

That means more than 1 in 10 US workers have been forced out of a job since the crisis took hold, the biggest, fastest pileup of job losses since record-keeping began in 1948.

The real numbers could be even higher because state unemployment offices around the country have been overwhelmed with claims, and some people have been unable to get through by telephone or website.

And still more job cuts are expected. The US unemployment rate in April could hit 15 per cent — a number last seen at the tail end of the Depression.

Xian Chang, whose Cafe China and two other New York restaurants normally employ around 150 people, said only about 40 are working.

One restaurant is closed, the others are offering takeout only, and workers aren’t coming, in some cases because they are sick or afraid.

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