The U.S. economy continues to look bleak after more than 3 million workers filed for unemployment benefits for the first time last week, according to federal labor data released Thursday.
Although that figure is down slightly from the week before, over 33 million Americans have now filed for initial jobless claims as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has routed some industries to Depression-era levels.
Yet even as the economy begins to slowly fire up again state by state, economists expect unemployment levels to continue rising — and to extend across a broader swath of industries.
Meanwhile, the debate over state reopenings goes on — and coronavirus cases show no sign of slowing down. As of Thursday evening, the death toll in the U.S. is over 76,000 and there are more than 1.2 million confirmed cases, according to NBC News' count.
- MAPS: Confirmed cases in the U.S. and worldwide, confirmed deaths in the U.S. and globally.
- Reopening America: See what states across the U.S. are starting to reopen.
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Russia surpasses France and Germany in total number of coronavirus cases
Russia's number of total confirmed cases of coronavirus overtook France and Germany on Thursday, reaching 177,160 infections. There was also a new record for the daily number of confirmed infections, with official government numbers showing 11,231 new cases, the fifth day in a row with more than 10,000.
These milestones come a day after President Vladimir Putin asked regional leaders to prepare plans for a gradual easing of lockdown starting May 12. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said Thursday 300,000 people have likely been infected in Moscow, despite an official tally of 92,676 cases in the city.
Sobyanin said the growth in new cases is due to expanded testing, which has allowed for the identification of more asymptomatic cases.
London to fast-track cycle lanes after predicting tenfold increase in biking
London will fast-track the construction of new cycle lanes to facilitate a predicted ten-fold increase in biking as a result of the coronavirus crisis, Mayor Sadiq Khan announced. The city's public transit system will only be able to run at a fifth of pre-crisis capacity due to social-distancing requirements, the mayor said, adding that if just a fraction of transit journeys are taken in cars instead, "London risks grinding to a halt, air quality will worsen, and road danger will increase."
The "streetspace" program will see temporary bike lanes installed quickly on some of London's busiest roads and sidewalks widened to allow more space for pedestrians to socially distance. The new lanes could be made permanent, the mayor indicated.
London is the latest city to turn to more space for cycling and walking as a result of the coronavirus crisis. New York, Milan and Paris have already announced big plans to turn over street space to walking and cycling. Columbia University’s Purnima Kapur — until recently the executive director of the New York City Department of City Planning — suggested that city planners could now find they have the political will to push through progressive changes that would have seemed too radical just a few months ago.
Tracking apps and thermal scanners: Life in post-lockdown South Korea
South Korea ended its stringent social distancing policies Wednesday after halting the spread of the coronavirus. But although sports fans will soon be allowed to return to stadiums and as museums and libraries began to reopen, life remains far from normal.
Thermal scanners at theme parks, shopping for makeup while wearing masks and constant tracking of people's whereabouts through apps and credit card data are markers of the new post-pandemic world in the country leading the way in its response to the virus.
"Everyday distancing does not mean returning to life before COVID-19," Kim Kang Lip, vice minister of health and welfare, said Tuesday at a news briefing. "It means building new social norms and a culture based on exercising social distancing."
Frontier Airlines will drop open-seat fee that drew attacks
Frontier Airlines is dropping plans to charge passengers extra to sit next to an empty middle seat after congressional Democrats accused the airline of trying to profit from fear over the new coronavirus.
“We recognize the concerns raised that we are profiting from safety and this was never our intent,” Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said late Wednesday in a letter to three lawmakers. “We simply wanted to provide our customers with an option for more space.”
Biffle said the airline will rescind the extra fee, which Frontier called More Room, and block the seats from being sold.
Earlier in the day, Democrats had railed against Frontier's plan to charge passengers at least $39 per flight to guarantee they would sit next to an empty middle seat. The offer was to begin with flights Friday and run through Aug. 31.
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Thai elephants, out of work due to coronavirus, trudge home
BANGKOK — The millions of unemployed in Thailand because of the coronavirus include elephants dependent on tourists to feed their voracious appetites. With scant numbers of foreign visitors, commercial elephant camps and sanctuaries lack funds for their upkeep and have sent more than 100 of the animals trudging as far as 100 miles back to their homes.
The Save Elephant Foundation in the northern province of Chiang Mai has been promoting the elephants’ return to the greener pastures of home. The foundation supports fundraising appeals to feed animals still housed at tourist parks, but also believes it is good for them to return to their natural habitat where they can be more self-sufficient.
The situation is critical. London-based World Animal Protection says as many as 2,000 tame elephants are at risk of starvation because their owners are unable to feed them.
Since last month, more than 100 of the animals have marched from all over Chiang Mai to their homeland of Mae Chaem, which is dotted with villages where members of the Karen ethnic minority live and traditionally keep elephants.
Relief payments sent to the dead should be returned, IRS says
The federal government said Wednesday people should return coronavirus relief payments that were sent to the deceased.
The IRS issued the formal guidance on its website Wednesday, and the Treasury Department also tweeted about what it called the inadvertent payments.
Congress authorized payments of $1,200 to individuals as part of a massive relief package due to the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus epidemic. Many were based on past tax returns, and people have reported that relatives who have since died got that money.