Some US manufacturers reopening amid fierce political heat
Boeing and a small number of other manufacturers around the U.S. geared up Monday to resume production amid pressure from 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, one of the Pacific Northwest’s biggest employers, said it will put 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 like Italy, Spain and Germany. Parts of the continent are perhaps weeks ahead of the U.S. on the curve of the virus, which has killed over 160,000 people worldwide.
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, especially now that it is clear that 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 politics with their complaints about a lack of tests. And Vice President Mike Pence told governors the federal government is working around-the-clock to help them ramp up testing.
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.
The death toll in the U.S. stood at more than 40,000 — the highest in the world — with over 750,000 confirmed infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The true figures are believed to be much higher, in part because of limited testing and difficulties in counting the dead.
Protesters 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. Defying the social-distancing rules and, in some cases, wearing no masks, demonstrators have berated their governors and demanded the firing of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert.
But Fauci warned: “Unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen.”
“If you jump the gun and go into a situation where you have a big spike, you’re going to set yourself back,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
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.
Boeing’s shutdown went into effect March 25 after workers tested positive for the virus and a longtime inspector for the company died. The epidemic has exacerbated problems at the company, already in dire financial trouble over two crashes of its 737 MAX jetliner that killed 346 people.
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 global game plan now is to open up but maintain enough social distancing to prevent new flareups of the virus.
But the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, cautioned that “the worst is yet ahead of us” and said that easing lockdowns is not the end of the crisis, just another phase. He did not specify why he believes the worst lies ahead, but there are signs the virus is swelling in Africa.
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.
“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 parlors were allowed to reopen in Denmark, but it was not business as usual.
Christel Lerche sprayed customers’ chairs with alcohol at her salon in suburban Copenhagen and provided hand sanitizer and plastic coat hangers — to be cleaned after each use — to clients keen to get their hair trimmed or styled for the first time since restrictions began on March 11. No magazines were left for customers to share.
India eased the world’s largest lockdown to allow some manufacturing and agricultural activity to resume — if employers can meet social distancing and hygiene standards. The move came as India recorded its biggest single-day spike in infections.
Iran began opening intercity highways and major shopping centers to stimulate its sanctions-choked economy, despite major questions about the country’s official infection figures and death toll.
Not every government was ready to take its foot off the brake.
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.
Still, Gucci restarted some workshops for leather accessories and shoes, agreeing with unions to provide “maximum security for workers.”
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 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.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in the middle of the most lethal hot spot of contagion in the U.S., reported more encouraging signs Monday among the tragic news, saying hospitalizations in the state have leveled off and the daily count of deaths, at 478, was the lowest in three weeks and down from a peak of nearly 800.
Still, the city canceled three of biggest events in June: the Puerto Rican Day parade, the Israel parade and the gay pride march.