Steven Mnuchin warns coronavirus could bring 20% unemployment – The Guardian

Unemployment in the US could soar from record low levels to 20% if strong action is not taken to tackle the coronavirus, the US treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has warned, as officials said Covid-19 has spread to all 50 states and the mayor of New York City accused the president of sidelining the US military as the crisis unfolds.

Donald Trump continued on Wednesday to call the illness “the Chinese Virus”, despite criticism over such blatant racially biased labeling, and boasted that he had treated the outbreak seriously from the beginning and done a great job at handling it, in the face of much evidence to the contrary.

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the “borders” from China – against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved. The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!

March 18, 2020

Mnuchin reportedly told Republican senators on Tuesday night that joblessness could soar without government action. Overnight, the Trump administration requested another $45.8bn from Congress to pump into running the government and dealing with the virus – in addition to an economic stimulus package of about a trillion dollars suggested already this week.

Congress is also being asked to consider issuing payments of $1,000 or more to individual Americans, although it is unclear who would receive the payouts, and exactly how much they would be paid. Much of the discussion so far has focused on an across-the-board payment, with everyone receiving a check, owing to limited time to do means testing if checks are to go out quickly.

But on Wednesday Trump signaled that payments could be more limited, as he was able to offer little comfort to those losing jobs as businesses suddenly shut down or see income tumble as people stay home, whether by government order or recommendation depending on their locality. The online system for applying for unemployment benefits crashed overnight.

“For the people that are now out of work because of the important and necessary containment policies, for instance the shutting down of hotels, bars and restaurants, money will soon be coming to you,” Trump said in a tweet.

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

For the people that are now out of work because of the important and necessary containment policies, for instance the shutting down of hotels, bars and restaurants, money will soon be coming to you. The onslaught of the Chinese Virus is not your fault! Will be stronger than ever!

March 18, 2020

Mnuchin’s warning over jobs, reported by CNN, came as politicians wrangled over financial packages to combat the effects of the virus.

According to CNN, Mnuchin made the unemployment claims in a private meeting on Tuesday. The treasury secretary urged Republicans to approve measures to boost the economy, and also warned that the financial impact of the coronavirus could exceed that of the 2008 financial crisis.

The Republican-controlled Senate is likely to vote on Wednesday on a multibillion-dollar plan that has already been approved by the Democratic-majority House of Representatives.

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, has urged his colleagues to approve it quickly, despite their qualms.

“Gag and vote for it,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Some Senate Republicans are said to be concerned the plan’s sick-leave provisions could heap costs on small businesses, while others say it does not cover those who work at corporations that employ more than 500 people.

Meanwhile West Virginia confirmed its first case of the coronavirus on Tuesday night, meaning the virus is now present in all 50 US states. In an update, the state said a person in the eastern panhandle region of the state had been diagnosed with Covid-19. The individual had not been hospitalized, the state said.


How can I protect myself from the coronavirus outbreak?

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided it is used correctly.

Many countries are now enforcing or recommending curfews or lockdowns. In the UK any household where a person develops a fever or a new continuous cough are recommended to self-isolate for 14 days.

Justin McCurry

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According to the World Health Organization there were 179,112 confirmed cases worldwide as of Tuesday evening. The number of confirmed cases in the US has exceeded 6,400, deaths 105, both numbers that have multiplied rapidly in the last week, CNN reported.

New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday called on the federal government to unleash military assistance for US states and cities trying to prevent a worst-case scenario for the coronavirus outbreak in the US, after an initially slow response.

“It’s unbelievable how rapidly this crisis is growing right now,” the mayor said on morning television.

On the NBC Today show he called for the federal government to increase the supply of ventilators, respirators and other supplies, saying: “The American military is being sidelined.”

He predicted cases of coronavirus in the city would exceed 1,000 on Wednesday and there have been at least 10 deaths.

Establishments such as bars, restaurants and gyms have been closed, except for food takeout and delivery, in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Schools are closed for at least 5 million American children and many universities are holding classes remotely online.

De Blasio is on a collision course with the New York state governor, Andrew Cuomo. De Blasio has warned that New York City’s more than 8 million residents may need to be ordered to “shelter in place”, while Cuomo, whose authority would be needed for any part of the state to go into such a “lockdown” or quarantine has said publicly he has no interest in such a move.

Such restrictions have gone into effect in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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