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US faces biggest dole queues since Great Depression: White House


The US unemployment rate is likely to hit 16 per cent or more this month due to coronavirus shutdowns and will approach levels not since the Great Depression, warns a White House economic advisor.

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“It’s a really grave situation,” President Donald Trump’s adviser, Kevin Hassett, told the ABC program This Week.

“This is the biggest negative shock that our economy, I think, has ever seen. We’re going to be looking at an unemployment rate that approaches rates that we saw during the Great Depression,” , he said.

A record 26.5 million Americans have filed for jobless benefits since mid-March, and retail sales, home-building and consumer confidence have all cratered.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts US gross domestic product will contract at nearly a 40 per cent annual rate in the second quarter, with unemployment cresting at 16 per cent in the third quarter. But even next year, the CBO sees the jobless rate still averaging above 10 per cent.

Before the pandemic struck, the US jobless rate had been hovering at a 50-year low of 3.5 per cent.

“I think the next couple of months are going to look terrible. You’re going to see numbers as bad as anything we’ve ever seen before,” Hassett said.

“We’re going to need really big thoughtful policies to put together to make it so that people are optimistic again.”

More US states to lift lockdowns

In the United States, more states are poised to lift coronavirus restrictions this week against the warnings of many public health experts, with the nation’s death toll climbing past 54,000 and cases fast approaching one million.

Colorado, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana and Tennessee will join other states beginning an experiment to reopen economies without the testing and contact-tracing infrastructure that health experts say is needed to prevent a resurgence of infections.

Georgia, Oklahoma, Alaska and South Carolina have already taken steps to restart their economies following a month of government-ordered lockdowns.

Those unprecedented restrictions resulted in a record 26.5 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits since mid-March.

Their preparations come as the White House predicts this month’s jobless rate will hit 16 per cent or higher.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted on Friday the economy would contract at nearly a 40 per cent annual rate in the second quarter.

Even next year, the CBO forecast the unemployment rate averaging above 10 per cent.

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett told reporters the US jobless rate would likely hit 16 per cent or more in April.

“I think the next couple of months are going to look terrible,” Hassett said on Sunday.

“You’re going to see numbers as bad as anything we’ve ever seen before.”

Against a backdrop of scattered protests across the country calling for stay-at-home orders to be lifted, US cases topped 940,000 on Sunday after posting a record one-day increase on Friday.

US President Donald Trump has refused to hold a daily briefing, after he suggested on Thursday that injecting disinfectants might help treat coronavirus.

That prompted warnings from the maker of cleaning products Lysol and Dettol against consuming the disinfectants, while public health agencies also issued cautions.

“What is the purpose of having White House News Conferences when the Lamestream Media asks nothing but hostile questions, & then refuses to report the truth or facts accurately,” Trump tweeted on Friday.

“They get record ratings, & the American people get nothing but Fake News. Not worth the time & effort!”

Italy prepares plan to lift lockdowns

Italy is set to ease a number of coronavirus-related restrictions from May 4, permitting more outdoor sports and exercise, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says.

Conte made the announcement in Rome while presenting the government’s plan for the gradual reopening of the country after weeks of strict lockdown measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

One the hardest-hit countries in Europe, Italy has been under lockdown for longer than any other Western nation, and has counted more than 26,000 deaths and nearly 200,000 infections.

Citizens have been living with particularly strict curfews since March 10.

Citizens will be allowed to move around in their own areas under certain rules starting in May, however travelling to other regions will remain largely prohibited for the time being and schools won’t reopen until September.

Conte warned citizens that the fight against the outbreak was far from over.

“We will still be put to a hard test in the coming months,” he said.

In Spain, the third hardest-hit country behind the US and Italy, children wearing protective masks were allowed outside in Madrid for the first time since the government declared a state of emergency on March 14.

Lucia Ibanez, nine, out for a walk with her mother, said she had missed the streets and the park and “feeling the air on your face” during lockdown.

“I never thought I would miss school but I really miss it,” she said.

Children will be allowed one hour of supervised outdoor activity per day between 9am and 9pm, staying within one kilometre of their home.

Adults can accompany up to three children, who will not be allowed to use playparks and must adhere to social distancing guidelines, remaining at least two metres from other people.

Schools remain closed.

Spain’s Health Ministry said on Sunday that 288 more people had died after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, the lowest daily rise in the past month and down on Saturday’s 378 and Friday’s 367.

The total number of deaths rose to 23,190 while the overall number of cases rose to 207,634 from 205,905 the day before.

In the UK, COVID-19 deaths rose above 20,000, with the overall figure likely to be significantly higher once deaths in care homes and hospices are tallied.

The economic news has been equally dire. Data released last week showed demand had slumped to an all-time low, retail sales had plunged by the most on record and government debt was surging.

“The latest news is that by April 26, the number of new coronavirus patients in Wuhan was at zero, thanks to the joint efforts of Wuhan and medical staff from around the country,” National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said at a briefing on Sunday.

The city had reported 46,452 cases, 56 per cent of the national total. It saw 3869 fatalities, or 84 per cent of China’s total.

But Singapore registered 931 new coronavirus infections overnight, up from 618 the day before, to take its total number of cases to 13,624.

The vast majority of the new cases are migrant workers living in dormitories, the health ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

Singapore now has one of the highest infection rates in Asia, according to official figures, due to outbreaks in cramped dormitories housing over 300,000 mainly South Asian workers.

-with AAP

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