Nearly 3 million more Americans file jobless claims

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Around 2.98 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment claims last week, more than economist expectations of 2.7 million, and the eighth straight week of numbers in the millions. More than 36.5 million unemployment claims have been filed since the COVID-19 pandemic struck two months ago.

Meanwhile, a Health and Human Services whistle blower, Dr. Rick Bright, warned Congress on Thursday that "2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history" without clear action against the coronavirus.

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More than 2.9 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment claims last week, the continuation of a downward trend as more workers return to their jobs after coronavirus-induced lockdowns are lifted across the country.

Normally, that would be an astonishing figure, sending the total number of Americans laid off their jobs over eight weeks past 36.5 million. But there has been a steady decline in the number of weekly claims since mid-March, when first-time filings peaked at 6.9 million in just one week.

States may finally be getting through the backlogs of filers that initially overwhelmed their antiquated systems, while the onslaught of first-time applications may also be tapering off after two months of closure due to coronavirus.

Continuing claims, a metric that captures the total number of people receiving ongoing benefits, is now at around 22.8 million. That number represents one week of lag time behind initial claims.

Restaurant uses toy pandas to ensure social distancing for diners

Two-minute silence held for Spanish health workers who died with COVID-19

A two-minute silence was observed outside hospitals and medical clinics across Spain on Wednesday, as tributes were paid to the 49 medical workers who unions said had died from COVID-19. Doctors, nurses and other health care workers held up signs with black ribbons, remembering their fallen colleagues before breaking out into a round of applause.

 

In a statement, the Forum of the Spanish Medical Profession and the State Confederation of Medical Unions encouraged social media users to join in the tribute online, sending images, videos or messages of remembrance for doctors who had helped fight the pandemic. In Madrid, the Committee on Health of the Congress of Deputies began its session by observing the two-minute silence.

The tribute came on the same day the Spanish Ministry of Health announced 506 new cases of the disease had been registered in the country, and an additional 217 deaths, bringing Spain's total number of cases and deaths to 229,540 and 27,321 respectively. A nationwide antibody study published by the ministry on Wednesday found about 5 percent of the country's population had contracted the virus. 

From France to China, nations worry about low rates of coronavirus infection

In a worrying sign that coronavirus may not be done sweeping through nations that are beginning to emerge from lockdown, recent studies in Spain and France indicate that only a small fraction of these countries' populations had been infected with the virus.

Meanwhile in China, where the outbreak began late last year, health officials said they would intensify the detection and investigation of COVID-19 to prevent any rebound of cases.

In France, where 16,642 people have died from coronavirus so far, according to an NBC News tally, a study led by the Pasteur Institute found only 4.4 percent of the population — or 2.8 million people — had been infected by virus. This rose to between 9 and 10 percent in hard-hit regions such as Paris, according to the study released Wednesday.

Read the full story here.

'Pub-on-wheels' pulls pints on people's doorsteps in London

Customers drink freshly poured pints of beer from the Forest Road Brewing Co "pub on wheels" van during its delivery round in east London.Hannah McKay / Reuters

Britain's pubs may be shut, but one east London brewer has found a new way to keep the beer flowing — by packing his kegs into a van and pulling pints on people's doorsteps.

Driving a white van with the slogan "tactical beer response unit" on the side, Peter Brown, the director of Forest Road Brewing Co., spends his day fulfilling delivery orders. But rather than delivering boxes of cans or bottles, Brown fills pint glasses for his customers out of taps on the side of the van.

"It doesn't fit as much beer as our bar would do on a normal Friday or Saturday, but what we do get is the pure joy on the customers' faces when they see a cold glass of beer for the first time in six weeks," he said. "The look on their faces is just irreplaceable." While Britain's pubs and bars have been closed for nearly two months, under the restrictions of lockdown, food and drink suppliers can still offer delivery services.

U.N. warns of global mental health crisis from coronavirus

The United Nations warned of a looming global mental health crisis as the world struggles to cope with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

The virus not only attacks physical health but has increased "psychological suffering" for many, Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message Thursday. From the death of loved ones to job losses and prolonged isolation, he warned that depression and anxiety could rise.

Guterres urged governments to expand mental health policies and funding to support a recovery from the pandemic.

Pandas in Canada zoo to return to China after shortage of their favorite bamboo

Female panda Er Shun is one of two giant pandas being returned to China by Canada's Calgary Zoo due to the difficulty of obtaining fresh bamboo.Calgary Zoo / Reuters

The Calgary Zoo in Canada is sending two giant pandas back to China years ahead of schedule after difficulties importing the bamboo they eat due to coronavirus-related disruptions. 

The pandas, Er Shun and Da Mao, who arrived in Canada in 2014, will return to China where bamboo is abundant. Giant pandas consume 88 pounds of bamboo a day and it makes up 99 percent of their diet, the zoo said. Before the pandemic, bamboo was flown directly from China to Calgary. Now shipments are now often delayed, resulting in poor quality bamboo that the pandas refuse to eat.

The early return of the pandas has raised concerns among Chinese netizens using the hashtag "Pandas in Canada will return," who fear pandas in other foreign countries would also face short supply of their favorite food, according to local news reports.

Japan lifts state of emergency in most areas, but not in Tokyo

Japan lifted its state of emergency around much of the country on Thursday with the exception of certain areas, including the country’s capital Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed in a news conference.

The new decision was made with cooperation from experts, Abe said, after taking into account the declining rate of infections, and improved availability of medical services and monitoring capabilities. The world's third-largest economy declared a nationwide state of emergency a month ago. The country recorded 57 new cases on Thursday, bringing its total to 16,079.

Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo said that while Abe will lift the state of emergency in 39 of Japan's 47 prefectures, “Tokyo is far away from it. Nothing has changed much here yet.” The number of infections in the city is still not yet stable, she said in a news conference.

Arctic explorers stranded amid coronavirus lockdowns

With only reindeer and polar bears for neighbors, two women Arctic explorers are enduring the world’s most extreme lockdown conditions with no clear end in sight as the coronavirus pandemic leaves them stranded.

Sunniva Sorby, 59, and Hilde Fålulm Strøm, 52, co-founders of the Hearts in the Ice polar education campaign, set off in August to the Svalbard archipelago, located between Norway’s mainland and the North Pole, to collect environmental data and raise awareness about climate change. They were due to return this month but the vessel designated to pick them up was canceled amid global travel restrictions.

“There have been tears,” Strøm told NBC News during a video call from her post in the Arctic Circle. “You are scared and you feel small in this big environment.”

Read the full story here.

South Korea to increase contact tracing after infection spike

South Korea is aggressively working to increase its contact tracing efforts, health authorities said after a recent spike in new coronavirus infections. The country reported 29 new cases on Thursday after weeks of seeing nearly no new domestic cases.

The spike comes as the number of infections linked to the capital’s nightclub district increased after lockdown measures eased. Officials scrambled on Monday, searching for thousands of people who may have been in the clubs.

South Korea has been lauded for its quick and effective action on its epidemic, significantly reducing the rate of new infections in recent weeks, but the resurgence of cases has raised worries about a second wave.