Coronavirus: Tensions mount as people seek to resume work, play amid lockdowns

Several U.S. states start easing COVID-19 restrictions
WATCH ABOVE: Several U.S. states start easing COVID-19 restrictions

Boeing and at least one other United States heavy-equipment manufacturer resumed production Monday amid pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to reopen the economy and resistance from governors who warn there is not enough testing yet to keep the coronavirus from rebounding.

Boeing said it is putting about 27,000 people back to work this week building passenger jets at its Seattle-area plants, with virus-slowing precautions in place, including face masks and staggered shifts. Doosan Bobcat, a farm equipment maker and North Dakota’s largest manufacturer, announced the return of about 2,200 workers at three factories around the state.

Elsewhere around the world, step-by-step reopenings were underway in Europe, where the crisis has begun to ebb in places such as Italy, Spain and Germany. Parts of the continent are perhaps weeks ahead of the U.S. on the infection curve of the virus, which has killed around 170,000 people worldwide, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

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The reopenings in the U.S. are a drop in the bucket compared with the more than 22 million Americans thrown out of work by the crisis.

In a dispute that has turned nakedly political, the president has been agitating to restart the economy, singling out Democratic-led states and egging on protesters who feel governors are moving too slowly.

While some states — mostly Republican-led ones — have relaxed restrictions, many governors say they lack the testing supplies they need and warn they could get hit by a second wave of infections, given how people with no symptoms can still spread the disease.

Trump took to Twitter to complain that the “radical left” and “Do Nothing Democrats” are “playing a very dangerous political game” by complaining about a testing shortage. At the same time, Vice-President Mike Pence told governors that Washington is working around-the-clock to help them ramp up testing.

Coronavirus around the world: April 18, 2020
Coronavirus around the world: April 18, 2020

The death toll in the U.S. stood at more than 40,000 — the highest in the world — with over 750,000 confirmed infections, by Johns Hopkins’ count. The true figures are believed to be much higher, in part because of limited testing and difficulties in counting the dead.

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In other developments:

— Massachusetts has emerged as an alarming hot spot of contagion, with over 1,700 dead and officials hoping to bend the curve through aggressive contract tracing.

— New York, with the worst outbreak in the nation, reported that hospitalizations in the state have levelled off and the day’s death toll, at 478, was the lowest in three weeks, down from a peak of nearly 800. Still, the city cancelled three of biggest events in June: the Puerto Rican Day parade, the Israel parade and the gay pride march.

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— A meatpacking plant in Minnesota was shut down after an outbreak there. But Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds refused to order the closing of any slaughterhouses in her state that are seeing alarming increases in COVID-19, saying: “Without them, people’s lives and our food supply will be impacted.”

Mobilized by the far right, many Americans have taken to the streets in places such as Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, complaining that the shutdowns are destroying their livelihoods and trampling their rights.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, warned on ABC: “Unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen.”

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In the past few days, Florida gave the OK for beaches to reopen, and Texas on Monday began a week of slow reopenings, starting off with state parks; later in the week, stores will be allowed to offer curbside service. Both states are led by Republicans.

Coronavirus outbreak: New York may be passed COVID-19 peak “if the data holds”
Coronavirus outbreak: New York may be passed COVID-19 peak “if the data holds”

Boeing’s shutdown went into effect March 25 after workers tested positive for the virus and an inspector for the company died. Washington was the first state to see a spike in COVID-19 cases and enacted strict shutdown orders that helped tamp the virus down.

The crisis has exacerbated problems at Boeing, already in dire financial trouble over two crashes of its 737 MAX jetliner that killed 346 people.

Businesses that start operating again are likely to engender good will with the Trump administration at a time when it is doling out billions in relief to companies.

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At Boeing, union representatives spent the day walking through factories to see what safeguards had been put in place. The union also advised its members that they could use their “red cards,” which they carry behind their Boeing badges, to stop work in case of imminent danger.

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At Doosan Bobcat, spokeswoman Stacey Breuer said the reopening came after two weeks spent putting in safety measures.

“There is definitely still some concern and do we feel 100 per cent safe? Obviously not,” said William Wilkinson, a Bobcat welder and president of a United Steelworkers union local. He said workers there were wearing face masks and keeping their distance from one another.

Detroit’s major automakers suspended operations a month ago but are negotiating with union leaders in hopes of reopening in May. Some operations are being converted to build ventilators.

Even with the outbreak easing in places, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, cautioned, “The worst is yet ahead of us.” He did not specify why he believes so. But there are signs the virus is swelling in Africa, where the health care system is in poor shape.

In Europe, meanwhile, cars are about to begin rolling off some assembly lines in Germany, Sweden and Slovakia. In Australia, the country’s longest-running soap opera, “Neighbours,” planned to restart shooting, and one city reopened beaches for exercise like swimming, running and surfing, but not for sunbathing.

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Coronavirus outbreak: ‘We are now the king of ventilators,’ says Trump claiming no one turned down for ventilator
Coronavirus outbreak: ‘We are now the king of ventilators,’ says Trump claiming no one turned down for ventilator

“Living along the coast, I know how important our beaches are to the mental and physical health of so many,” said Danny Said, mayor of Randwick.

Hair salons, dentists, physical therapists and tattoo parlours were allowed to reopen in Denmark, but it was not business as usual.

Christel Lerche sprayed chairs with alcohol at her salon in suburban Copenhagen and provided hand sanitizer and plastic coat hangers — to be cleaned after each use — to customers keen to get their hair styled for the first time in over a month. No magazines were left for customers to share.

India eased the world’s largest lockdown to allow some manufacturing and agricultural activity to resume. Iran began opening intercity highways and major shopping centres.

In Italy, tensions have been growing between northern regions, which are pushing to reopen industry despite being hit hardest by the virus, and the south, which fears contagion if the lockdown is eased. Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to outline this week what the next phase may look like.

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Still, Gucci restarted some workshops for leather accessories and shoes.

In Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still recovering from a bout of COVID-19 that put him in intensive care, authorities have cautioned that the lockdown is unlikely to be significantly loosened in the short term.

France also is still under a tight lockdown, although starting Monday, authorities allowed families, under strict conditions, to visit relatives in nursing homes once again.