Factbox-Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus

(Reuters) – Japan will lift a state of emergency in all regions on Thursday as the number of new cases falls, while India reported the smallest daily rise in COVID-19 deaths since mid-March.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

EUROPE

* Sweden will offer additional groups, including people aged 80 and above, to top up their COVID-19 vaccinations with a third dose, the Nordic country’s health minister said.

* Italy’s health ministry said on Tuesday it had given the go-ahead for travel to six non-European tourist spots without the need for quarantine as a COVID-19 precaution either on arrival or return.

AMERICAS

* New York hospitals began firing or suspending healthcare workers for defying a state order to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and resulting staff shortages prompted some hospitals to postpone elective surgeries or curtail services.

* Brazil will provide COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to all its people over 60-years-old, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said.

* A Brazilian hospital chain tested unproven drugs on elderly COVID-19 patients without their knowledge as part of an effort to validate President Jair Bolsonaro’s preferred ‘miracle cure,’ a lawyer for whistleblowing doctors told senators on Tuesday.

* Authorities in Costa Rica said on Tuesday all state workers will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19, making it one of the first countries in Latin America to impose a coronavirus vaccination mandate.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* China administered about 3.0 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines on Sept. 27, bringing total doses to 2.203 billion, data from the National Health Commission showed.

* India’s drug regulator has allowed vaccine maker Serum Institute to enroll kids aged 7-11 years for its trial of U.S. drugmaker Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine.

* Sydney residents who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 risk being barred from various social activities even when they are freed from stay-at-home orders in December.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* Egypt is now providing immediate COVID-19 vaccinations at youth centers across the country without prior online registration, a step aimed at encouraging vaccinations and relieving pressure on hospitals and health units amid a fourth wave of infections.

* Algeria will start production of COVID-19 vaccine Sinovac in partnership with China on Wednesday with the aim of meeting domestic demand and exporting the surplus, the prime minister’s office said on Tuesday.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* Pfizer and BioNTech have submitted initial trial data for their COVID-19 vaccine in 5-11 year old’s and said they would make a formal request with U.S. regulators for emergency use in the coming weeks.

* Sanofi is dropping plans for its own mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine because of the dominance achieved by BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna in using the technology to fight the pandemic, the company said.

* As Merck & Co and Pfizer prepare to report clinical trial results for experimental COVID-19 antiviral pills, rivals are lining up with what they hope will prove to be more potent and convenient oral treatments of their own.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* Global shares fell for a third successive day on Tuesday, with tech stocks plummeting, as anxiety over when central banks might raise interest rates led to rising bond yields on both sides of the Atlantic.

* Profits at China’s industrial firms grew at a weaker pace in August from a year earlier, slowing for a sixth consecutive month, as manufacturers struggled with high commodity prices, COVID-19 outbreaks and shortages of some key components.

* The East Asia and Pacific region’s recovery has been undermined by the spread of the Delta variant, which is likely slowing economic growth and increasing inequality in the region, the World Bank said.

(Compiled by Ramakrishnan M., Vinay Dwivedi and Juliette Portala; Edited by Arun Koyyur and Shounak Dasgupta)

Biden to outline plan to curb coronavirus Delta variant as cases grow

By Steve Holland and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON/ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) -President Joe Biden on Thursday will present a six-pronged strategy intended to fight the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus Delta variant and increase U.S. COVID-19 vaccinations, the White House said on Tuesday.

The United States, which leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, is struggling to stem a wave of infections driven by the variant even as officials try to persuade Americans who have resisted vaccination to get the shots. Rising case loads have raised concerns as children head back to school, while also rattling investors and upending company return-to-office plans.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters traveling with Biden aboard Air Force One that he will lay out the six-pronged strategy “working across the public and private sectors to help continue to get the pandemic under control.”

Asked about possible new mandates, Psaki said the White House would offer more details later about the plan and acknowledged that the federal government cannot broadly mandate that Americans get vaccinated.

“We need to continue to take more steps to make sure school districts are prepared and make sure communities across the country are prepared,” Psaki added.

On Wednesday, Biden is scheduled to meet with White House COVID-19 advisers.

The United States has recorded roughly 650,000 COVID-19 deaths and last week exceeded 40 million cases. Reuters data shows that more than 20,800 people have died in the United States from COVID-19 in the past two weeks, up about 67% from the prior two-week period.

Hospitalizations have grown, with seven U.S. states – Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Tennessee and Washington – reporting records this month.

Biden previously announced plans to offer booster shots more widely, pending regulatory approval. His chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci on Tuesday said officials are still aiming to do so starting the week of Sept. 20.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisers are scheduled to meet on Sept. 17 to consider a possible third shot of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE’s two-dose vaccine, the only COVID-19 vaccine yet to receive full approval from the agency.

Fauci told CNN Pfizer’s third shot appears likely to be rolled out first, with Moderna Inc’s version “close behind.” Moderna has sought full FDA approval of its two-dose vaccine.

Booster doses are already approved by U.S. regulators for people with compromised immune systems.

U.S. officials have said they expect vaccines to be approved for children younger than 12 this winter. With U.S. students already starting a new school year, battles over public health efforts including mandates that pupils wear masks erupted in many places across the country.

In the private sector, increasing numbers of U.S. employers have imposed vaccine mandates for employees. The Biden administration has hailed efforts by businesses, universities and others to bolster vaccinations.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 62.3% of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose and 53% – 176 million people – are fully vaccinated. Counting the population eligible for vaccines – people 12 and older – 72.9% have received at least one dose and 62% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Nadita Bose aboard Air Force One; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham)

Biden to zero in on Delta variant as U.S. approaches 160 million COVID-19 vaccinations

(Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will encourage Americans who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get their shots to protect themselves from the widely-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus, the White House said on Tuesday.

Biden is scheduled to make remarks on Tuesday afternoon after receiving a briefing from his advisers. A White House official said the country will be “nearing” 160 million people fully vaccinated by the end of the week.

“He will speak to the American people about the strong progress that the country has made in recovery because of its robust vaccination campaign, as well as the importance of every eligible American getting vaccinated, especially as the Delta variant continues to grow among unvaccinated people across the country,” the official said about Biden’s planned remarks.

The Delta variant, which is becoming dominant in many countries, is more easily transmitted than earlier versions of the coronavirus and may cause more severe disease, especially among younger people. It has now been found in every U.S. state, health officials have said.

Biden will also discuss how the administration plans to make the vaccine available in more healthcare settings, the official said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Philippines’ Duterte threatens vaccine decliners with jail, animal drug

MANILA (Reuters) -Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, frustrated by the slow pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in his country, threatened people who refuse to get inoculated with jail or an injection of Ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug widely used to treat animals.

Ivermectin has been touted as an alternative treatment for COVID-19 but U.S. and European regulators and the World Health Organization (WHO) have recommended against it.

“You choose, vaccine or I will have you jailed,” Duterte said in a televised address late on Monday, following reports of low turnout at several vaccination sites in the capital Manila.

“But for as long as you are here and you are a human being, and can carry the virus, get vaccinated.

“Otherwise, I will order all the village captains to have a tally of the people who refuse to be vaccinated. Because if not, I will have Ivermectin meant for pigs injected into you.”

Duterte is famous for his bellicose rhetoric and his remarks on Monday contradicted those of his health officials, who have said getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is voluntary.

“Don’t get me wrong, there is a crisis in this country,” Duterte said. “I’m just exasperated by Filipinos not heeding the government.”

With over 1.3 million cases, the Philippines is fighting one of Asia’s must stubborn COVID-19 epidemics.

But as of June 20, just 2.1 million people had been fully vaccinated of the 70 million people targeted for this year.

Duterte, who has been criticized for his tough approach to containing the virus, also stood by his decision not to let schools reopen.

In the same televised address, he took a swipe at the International Criminal Court, after an ICC prosecutor sought permission from the court for a full inquiry into thousands of killings by police in a war on drugs ordered by Duterte.

Duterte, who cancelled the Philippines’ membership of the ICC’s founding treaty, said he would not cooperate with the probe and described the ICC as “bullshit”.

“Why would I defend or face an accusation before white people. You must be crazy,” he said.

Human rights groups say authorities have summarily executed drug suspects, but Duterte maintains those killed had violently resisted arrest.

Asked for comment, ICC court spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah said: “The court is an independent judicial institution, and does not comment on political statements”.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Martin Petty and Gareth Jones)

White House sees ‘summer of joy and freedom’ as COVID-19 shots surpass 300 million

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States has administered 300 million COVID-19 vaccinations in 150 days, a White House official said on Friday ahead of President Joe Biden’s scheduled update on his administration’s vaccination program.

Biden’s government-wide push to accelerate vaccinations was paying off, with COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths down to their lowest levels since the start of the pandemic, the officials said.

While Biden would “make clear that there is more work to be done” to ensure an equitable response to the pandemic, the U.S. economy was experiencing its strongest rebound in decades, the White House said.

“The results are clear: America is starting to look like America again, and entering a summer of joy and freedom,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

The news comes days after the United States marked a grim milestone, surpassing 600,000 COVID-19 deaths.

The U.S. death toll remains the highest in the world, although other countries, including Brazil, Britain and Russia, have higher death rates as a measure of their populations.

A White House fact sheet said the number of COVID-19 deaths has decreased by 90% since Biden took office in January, when more than 3,300 Americans were dying each day, and highlighted big gains in the economy as people return to work.

It said more than 175 million Americans had now received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, and 55% of adults were fully vaccinated.

Addressing racial imbalances in vaccination rates remained a huge and continuing concern, the White House said, but pointed to gains there as well. In the past month, it said, people of color had accounted for 54% of nationwide vaccinations, while making up 40% of the U.S. population.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited a vaccination site at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Friday, underscoring the importance of faith groups and community-based organizations in accelerating vaccinations and overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

“Church is always a healing place. It’s so appropriate that we’re doing this here,” she said in remarks at the historic church where Martin Luther King Jr. and his father once preached.

“We just need to get the word out. One of the most important ways is friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor … please help us get the word out,” Harris said, according to a pool press report on the visit.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

Fauci expects COVID-19 vaccines for kids in late-2021, sees need for booster shot

By Trisha Roy and Amruta Khandekar

(Reuters) -Kids in the United States will likely be able to get COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of this year or the first quarter of 2022, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said at an event on Wednesday.

The United States earlier this month cleared the way for the use of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech SE in adolescents aged 12 and above.

Fauci also noted the need for a COVID-19 booster shot within a year or so after getting the primary shot.

“I think we will almost certainly require a booster sometime within a year or so after getting the primary because the durability protection against coronavirus is generally not lifelong similar to measles,” he said.

Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla at the event said there is likely a need for booster shots between 8-12 months. In April, Bourla told CNBC people will “likely” need a third booster dose of COVID-19 vaccines within 12 months.

Scientists, however, are questioning the need for COVID-19 booster shots due to a lack of data to make an informed decision.

There has been significant headway in ensuring vaccine equity, Fauci added, highlighting that the shots should be available in geographic locations easily accessible to minorities as a lesson for the next pandemic.

(Reporting by Trisha Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

U.S. vaccinated 600,000 12-15 year old’s last week

By Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) -The United States administered COVID-19 vaccinations to around 600,000 children ages 12 to 15 last week after regulators cleared Pfizer Inc’s and BioNTech’s shots for use in that age group, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said in a media call on Tuesday.

In total, more than 4 million people under 17 have been vaccinated in the United States so far, she added. Top U.S. infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci said he expects that by the end of 2021 the United States will have enough safety data to vaccinate children of any age.

U.S. regulators last week authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in children as young as 12. Most states began issuing shots to children last Thursday but some, including Georgia, started sooner.

Pfizer’s shot is the first to be cleared in the United States for children 12 to 15. Vaccinating younger ages is considered important for getting children back into schools safely. U.S. President Joe Biden has asked states to make the vaccine available to younger adolescents immediately.

The vaccine has been available under an emergency use authorization to people as young as 16 in the United States since December.

Most children with COVID-19 develop only mild symptoms or no symptoms. Yet children remain at risk of becoming seriously ill, and they can spread the virus.

Widely vaccinating 12- to 18-year old’s could allow U.S. schools and summer camps to relax masking and social distancing measures suggested by the CDC.

Fauci also said on Tuesday that existing COVID-19 shots probably also protect against the new variant of the coronavirus first found in India, which has been battling the world’s biggest jump in COVID-19 infections.

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell, additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

Fed officials sift through tea leaves of weak U.S. jobs report

By Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Reserve officials grappled on Tuesday with April’s surprisingly weak employment growth, maintaining faith in the U.S. economic rebound but acknowledging the pace of the jobs recovery may prove choppier than anticipated.

The United States added 266,000 jobs last month, about a quarter of the gain penciled in by economists, including Fed officials themselves, in what had been anticipated to be the start of a steady run of strong job growth.

The April report instead raised a broad set of questions about the complicated interplay among peoples’ decisions about whether to work during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, constraints stemming from the lack of child care and closed schools, the slowing pace of COVID-19 vaccinations, global supply bottlenecks for critical goods like semiconductors, and the enhanced federal unemployment benefits that may be encouraging some potential workers to stay home.

In contrast to the low number of jobs created in April, job openings as of the end of March hit a record 8.1 million, narrowing the wedge with the roughly 9.8 million people still unemployed.

“What the data suggests, and what I hear anecdotally, is that labor demand and labor supply are both on the path to recovery but they are recovering at different paces and there may be friction,” Fed Governor Lael Brainard told the Society for Advancing Business Writing and Editing (SABEW).

“There are still concerns over contracting the virus, the need to take public transportation,” she said, while many parents are waiting for schools to reopen.

“I do expect to see good improvement on people wanting to go to work and able to work,” Brainard added. “We are just seeing it in fits and starts,” a fact she said validated the U.S. central bank’s “patient” promise to leave crisis-level interest rates and bond-buying in place until the recovery is more complete.

In separate appearances, Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker, and San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly laid out similar arguments, and noted that much may hinge on whether larger numbers of Americans get vaccinated so that people overall become more comfortable in close-contact jobs and activities.

‘HARD CHOICES’

The April jobs report has kindled intense debate in Washington about where the recovery stands and whether current federal policy is stifling aspects of it.

The economy is poised for its strongest growth since the early 1980s, jobs boards are bulging with open positions, and the number of new daily coronavirus infections has recently ebbed to levels not seen since the start of the pandemic.

Businesses, even the smaller enterprises that had to be nursed through the pandemic with federal help, now complain those same benefits are allowing workers to stay home.

Brainard, however, noted that about two-thirds of school-age kids were still not back in classrooms on a full-time basis, while only about a quarter of those aged 18 to 64 – the core of the U.S. work force – are fully vaccinated.

The decision by the Biden administration and Congress earlier this year to extend a weekly $300 federal unemployment benefit until September has become a particular point of contention, with Republican governors in several states moving to halt the payments.

Fed officials, however, have largely discounted the impact of the extra payments on workers’ willingness to seek jobs, arguing that it isn’t the benefit as much as health risks and other problems that are at play. At the start of the pandemic, federal benefits were put in place largely so people would not have to venture out to jobs that might expose them to illness and allow them to spread it further.

“It is true that with the extension of the unemployment benefits people are in a financial position so that they can make those hard choices, about whether they feel comfortable reentering or not,” Mester said on Yahoo Finance.

The pace of the labor market rebound has a direct bearing on how the Fed intends to set monetary policy.

In particular, the Fed has said it would not change its current $120 billion in monthly purchases of government securities until there was “substantial further progress” in reaching maximum employment.

Slower job growth pushes that moment further into the future even as concerns increase that the continuing loose monetary policy may fuel inflation, or drive up asset prices that will eventually return to earth.

New consumer price data this week is expected to stoke that debate as prices for staple goods and commodities like lumber for home projects move higher.

Fed officials, however, say they expect the pressure on prices to also ease over time, just as the difficulties in the labor market will be resolved.

“To the extent that supply chain congestion and other reopening frictions are transitory, they are unlikely to generate persistently higher inflation on their own,” Brainard said, noting that some of the very forces that might generate higher prices now – a surge in demand as people get back to normal activity, for example – won’t be repeated.

Government fiscal spending is also expected to fade next year.

“Remaining patient through the transitory surge associated with reopening will help ensure that the underlying economic momentum that will be needed to reach our goals as some current tailwinds shift to headwinds is not curtailed by a premature tightening of financial conditions,” she said.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir; Editing by Paul Simao)

Pace of U.S. economic recovery accelerates, Fed says

By Jonnelle Marte, Ann Saphir and Howard Schneider

(Reuters) – The U.S. economic recovery accelerated to a moderate pace from late February to early April as consumers, buoyed by increased COVID-19 vaccinations and strong fiscal support, opened their wallets to spend more on travel and other items, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday.

The labor market, which was decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, also improved as more people returned to work, with the pace of hiring picking up the most in the manufacturing, construction, and leisure and hospitality sectors.

“Reports on tourism were more upbeat, bolstered by a pickup in demand for leisure activities and travel which contacts attributed to spring break, an easing of pandemic-related restrictions, increased vaccinations, and recent stimulus payments among other factors,” the U.S. central bank said in its latest “Beige Book,” a collection of anecdotes about the economy from its 12 regional districts.

Hospitality contacts told the Atlanta Fed they had “solid bookings for the remainder of spring and through the summer months and beyond,” according to the report, which was compiled by the Dallas Fed using surveys conducted before April 5.

While most districts said the pace of growth in their regional economies was moderate, the New York Fed said its economy “grew at a strong pace for the first time during the pandemic, with growth broad-based across industries.”

The improvement occurred despite an increase in COVID-19 cases in the region, the New York Fed said. “Moreover, business contacts have grown increasingly optimistic about the near-term outlook.”

FOCUS ON WAGES

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said this week that the U.S. economy is at an “inflection point” where growth and hiring could pick up speed over the coming months thanks to increased COVID-19 vaccinations and strong fiscal stimulus.

The United States added 916,000 jobs in March, the largest gain in seven months, according to Labor Department data. And U.S. consumer prices rose at the fastest clip in more than 8-1/2 years in March as vaccinations and stimulus boosted economic activity, according to Labor Department data released on Tuesday.

However, Powell and other Fed officials say the brighter economic forecasts and brief period of higher inflation will not affect monetary policy, and the central bank will keep its support in place until the crisis is over. The U.S. economy is still 8.4 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic levels.

Policymakers agreed last month to leave interest rates near zero and to keep purchasing $120 billion a month in bonds until there was “substantial further progress” toward the Fed’s goals for maximum employment and inflation. Fed officials will gather again in two weeks for their next policy-setting meeting.

The report highlighted the strategies some businesses are considering as they reopen, increase capacity and attempt to recruit workers. One staffing services firm told the Cleveland Fed that pay had for the first time become the top priority of job seekers, surpassing the type of work.

Several workforce contacts suggested that employers might be delaying wage hikes in hopes of a surge of newly vaccinated job seekers, the Minneapolis Fed reported: “Why start raising wages when a lot of labor might be coming back?”

(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte; Editing by Paul Simao)

U.S. weekly jobless claims unexpectedly rise, but labor market improving

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, but the increase likely understated the rapidly improving labor market conditions as more parts of the economy reopen and fiscal stimulus kicks in.

The second straight weekly increase in claims reported by the Labor Department on Thursday was at odds with reports this month showing the economy created 916,000 jobs in March, the most in seven months, and job openings increased to a two-year high in February.

“Our belief is that continued moves to reopen the economy will result in a solid further advance in payrolls in the April jobs report and that the claims data are likely not capturing the pace of improvement in the labor market,” said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economic advisor at Brean Capital in New York.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 744,000 for the week ended April 3 compared to 728,000 in the prior week. Data for the prior week was revised to show 9,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 680,000 applications for the latest week. Though claims have dropped from a record 6.149 million in early April of 2020, they remain more than double their pre-pandemic level. In a healthy labor market, claims are normally in a range of 200,000 to 250,000.

Part of the elevation in claims is because of fraud, multiple filings and backlogs following the enhancement of the unemployment benefit programs.

The government is paying a weekly $300 unemployment supplement, as well as funding benefits for the self-employed, gig workers and others who do not qualify for the regular state unemployment insurance programs.

The weekly subsidy and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program will run through Sept. 6.

Including the PUA program, 892,539 people filed claims last week, remaining below one million for a third straight week.

The increase in applications was led by California and New York. There were big drops in Alabama and Texas, as well as Ohio, which has been beset by fraudulent applications.

“The total number of filings for all unemployment insurance programs has remained stubbornly steady over the last few months despite net re-hiring in monthly employment reports,” said Veronica Clark, an economist at Citigroup in New York.

“This could partly be a reflection of more workers wanting to stay on unemployment benefits even if some return to work part-time given the greater size of payments.”

U.S. stocks opened largely higher. The dollar fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices gained.

COMPANIES HIRING

The labor market has regained its footing after stumbling in December, thanks to the White House’s massive $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue package and an acceleration in the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations, which are allowing more services businesses to resume operations.

In the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s March 16-17 policy meeting released on Wednesday, U.S. central bank officials acknowledged the improvement in labor market conditions and “expected strong job gains to continue over coming months and into the medium term.”

Several Fed officials suggested the latest relief package “could hasten the recovery, which could help limit longer-term damage in labor markets caused by the pandemic.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests companies are recalling workers laid off during the pandemic and hiring new employees. An Institute for Supply Management survey on Monday showed services businesses reporting they “have recalled everyone put on waivers and made new hires” and had “additional employees added to service the needs of new customers at new locations.”

Still, the labor market recovery has a long way to go. Employment is 8.4 million jobs below its peak in February 2020.

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid decreased 16,000 to 3.734 million in the week ended March 27. That was the lowest reading since March 2020 when mandatory closures of non-essential businesses were being enforced across many states to slow the first wave of COVID-19 infections.

The 12th straight weekly decline in the so-called continuing claims in likely due to people finding work and exhausting their eligibility for benefits, limited to 26 weeks in most states. About 5.634 million people were on extended benefits during the week ended March 20, up 117,108 from the prior week.

Another 786,962 were on a state program for those who have exhausted their initial six months of aid, down 230,780 from the week before. There were 18.2 million receiving benefits under all programs during the week ended March 20.

(Reporting by Lucia MutikaniEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)