Walmart to hire 50,000 more workers in coronavirus-driven hiring spree

(Reuters) – Walmart Inc said on Friday it would hire 50,000 more workers at its stores, clubs and distribution centers to meet a surge in demand for groceries and household essentials from consumers stockpiling during the coronavirus outbreak.

The retailer said it had reached its earlier target of hiring 150,000 workers six weeks ahead of schedule, taking in 5,000 people per day on average at a time when millions of Americans are losing their jobs amid unprecedented “stay-at-home” orders from state and local governments.

The measures to control the spread of the disease have brought economic activity to a virtual standstill, forcing companies to take drastic steps to save cash.

The S&P 500 index has fallen 15% from its February record high, while Walmart’s stock has surged more than 10% in the same period.

Walmart said it had worked with more than 70 companies that furloughed workers due to the pandemic to hire its 150,000 new employees, many of whom came from the restaurant and hospitality industries.

The company said 85% of the workers being hired are going into temporary or part-time roles.

Skyrocketing demand for food, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and other household products has also prompted retailers Kroger, Target and Amazon.com Inc to hire by the thousands.

Separately, Walmart said it will now require its U.S. staff to wear masks or other face coverings at work, making its face-covering policy mandatory from optional in line with public health guidance.

“This includes our stores, clubs, distribution and fulfillment centers as well as in our corporate offices”, Walmart U.S. President John Furner said in a memo.

The company is also extending its emergency leave policy through the end of May, according to the memo.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Devika Syamnath, Robert Birsel)

U.S. weekly jobless claims blow past 6 million mark

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits shot to a record high of more than 6 million last week as more jurisdictions enforced stay-at-home measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic, which economists say has pushed the economy into recession.

Thursday’s weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department, the most timely data on the economy’s health, reinforced economists’ views that the longest employment boom in U.S. history probably ended in March.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits surged 3.341 million to a seasonally adjusted 6.648 million for the week ended March 28, the government said. Data for the prior week was revised to show 24,000 more applications received than previously reported, lifting the number to 3.307 million.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would jump to 3.50 million in the latest week, though estimates were as high as 5.25 million.

“Similar to last week’s unemployment claims numbers, today’s report reflects the sacrifices American workers are making for their families, neighbors, and country in order to slow the spread,” U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said in a statement.

The United States has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, with more than 214,000 people infected. Nearly 5,000 people in the country have died from the illness, according to a Reuters tally.

The dollar <.DXY> was little changed against a basket of currencies. U.S Treasury prices were trading higher while U.S. stock index futures pared gains.

GENEROUS PROVISIONS

Applications for unemployment benefits peaked at 665,000 during the 2007-2009 recession, when 8.7 million jobs were lost. Economists say the country should brace for jobless claims to continue escalating, partly citing generous provisions of a historic $2.3 trillion fiscal package signed by President Donald Trump last Friday and the federal government’s easing of requirements for workers to seek benefits.

As a result, self-employed and gig workers who previously were unable to claim unemployment benefits are now eligible. In addition, the unemployed will get up to $600 per week for up to four months, which is equivalent to $15 per hour for a 40-hour workweek. By comparison, the government-mandated minimum wage is about $7.25 per hour and the average jobless benefits payment was roughly $385 per person per month at the start of this year.

“Why work when one is better off not working financially and healthwise?” said Sung Won Sohn, a business economics professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Last week’s claims data has no bearing on the closely watched employment report for March, which is scheduled for release on Friday. For the latter, the government surveyed businesses and households in the middle of the month, when just a handful of states were enforcing “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders.

It is, however, a preview of the carnage that awaits. Retailers, including Macy’s, Kohl’s Corp and Gap Inc , said on Monday they would furlough tens of thousands of employees, as they prepare to keep stores shut for longer.

According to a Reuters survey of economists, the government report on Friday is likely to show nonfarm payrolls dropped by 100,000 jobs last month after a robust increase of 273,000 in February. The unemployment rate is forecast to rise three-tenths of a percentage point to 3.8% in March.

“A rough look at the most affected industries suggests a potential payroll job loss of over 16 million jobs,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management in New York. “The loss would be enough to boost the unemployment rate from roughly 3.5% to 12.5%, which would be its highest rate since the Great Depression.”

Thursday’s claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid jumped 1.245 million to 3.029 million for the week ended March 21, the highest since July 6, 2013.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Dan Burns, Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

U.S. surgeon general says coronavirus outbreak ‘to get bad’ this week

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. surgeon general issued his starkest warning to date on Monday about the health risk posed by the coronavirus outbreak, warning Americans that the crisis was “going to get bad” this week.

The country’s top public health official, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, sounded the alarm as nearly one-third of Americans awoke to “stay at home orders.”

As of Sunday night, states with a population totaling more than 100 million people have imposed restrictions to curtail the virus, which has infected nearly 35,000 people and killed 428 in the United States, putting the country on a track similar to those of devastated European countries such as Italy and Spain.

“This week it’s going to get bad,” Adams told NBC’s “Today” show, saying there were more people out to see Washington’s famed annual cherry blossoms than there were blossoms. “This is how the spread is occurring. Everyone needs to be taking the right steps right now: stay home.”

Trump imposed a 15-day national action plan a week ago urging Americans to follow the direction of the “stay at home” orders of state and local officials.

At the same time, he has also been far more optimistic than health experts have been about the prognosis for the outbreak while also voicing concern about the negative effect of shutting down wide swathes of the economy.

“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” Trump tweeted in all capital letters overnight. “At the end of the 15-day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go.”

Also on Monday, the U.S. Federal Reserve mounted an extraordinary new array of programs to offset the disruptions to the economy caused by the outbreak, backstopping an unprecedented range of credit for households, small businesses and major employers.

CONGRESS MEETS

Congress was trying to address concerns over the economy, which is forecast to shrink as a result of emergency measures. U.S. Senate Democrats and Republicans were working on an economic relief bill, aware that failure to strike a deal could trigger further heavy losses in U.S. stock markets.

The Senate was due to reconvene at noon ET (1600 GMT) to consider the bill, which Democrats argue favors corporate interests at the expense of healthcare workers, hospitals and state and local governments. Republicans in turn accused them of obstructing a badly needed stimulus in the midst of a national emergency.

Independent experts have suggested far more than 15 days will be needed to halt the spread.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Monday called on the federal government to do more to provide personal protective equipment, noting that all states “are all out looking for the same thing” in competition with each other.”We need a lot more,” Murphy told CNN. “Anything they could do is going to make a huge difference.”Murphy reiterated his call for the federal government to collectively provide $100 billion in direct cash assistance to New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Trump on Sunday defended his decision to hold off using his powers under the Defense Protection Act to ramp up supplies, telling reporters at a news conference that nationalizing businesses “is not a good concept.”

Murphy noted that on one day last week 15,000 New Jersey residents applied for unemployment benefits, crashing the state’s computer systems.”We need the feds to come in a big way to help us,” Murphy said. “Folks are hurting.”

The first of two U.S. military hospital ships was dispatched on Monday to boost hospital bed capacity as the number of U.S. coronavirus cases swells.

The U.S. Naval Ship Mercy departed San Diego with nearly 900 staff on board to take on non-coronavirus patients and allow local personnel to manage those on shore with the virus, the Pentagon said in statement. Trump on Sunday said the Mercy would be dispatched to Los Angeles while the USNS Comfort would go to New York.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu and Nathan Layne; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Howard Goller)

Ohio, Louisiana become latest U.S. states to declare coronavirus lockdowns

By Jonnelle Marte and Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As U.S. cases of coronavirus spiked on Sunday, Ohio and Louisiana became the latest states to announce broad lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus with nearly one in three Americans under orders to stay at home.

The two states join New York, California, Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey, home to 100 million Americans combined, as cases nationwide top 33,000 with at least 390 dead, according to a Reuters tally.

“Every piece of evidence that I can lay my hands on indicates that we’re at an absolutely crucial time in this war and what we do now will make all the difference in the world,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. “What we do now will slow this invader. It will slow this invader so our health care system … will have time to treat casualties.”

Ohio has 351 cases and three deaths while Louisiana has 837 cases and 20 deaths, several in a senior care facility.

The mayor of New York City, the epicenter of the nation’s coronavirus epidemic, on Sunday described the outbreak as the biggest domestic crisis since the Great Depression and called for the U.S. military to mobilize to help keep the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.

“If we don’t get more ventilators in the next 10 days people will die who don’t have to die,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, as the nation’s most populous city saw COVID-19 cases top 9,600 and deaths climbed to 63.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged the federal government to take over acquisition of medical supplies so states do not have to compete with each other for desperately needed resources. He also repeated a request for the Army Corps of Engineers to build temporary hospitals.

Help is not coming quickly enough, Cuomo said.

“Time matters, minutes count, and this is literally a matter of life and death,” he said. “At the same time, there is not going to be chaos, there is not going to be anarchy. Life is going to go on. Different. But life is going to go on.”

The number of cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness in the United States and Spain are exceeded only by China and Italy. Italy reported record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths last week.

“This is going to be the greatest crisis domestically since the Great Depression,” de Blasio told CNN, referring to the economic crisis of the 1930s. “This is why we need a full-scale mobilization of the American military.”

Around the globe, billions are adapting to a new reality, with countries like Italy, Spain and France on lockdown and several South American nations taking similar measures to try to stay ahead of the contagion, as global cases exceeded 315,000 and deaths top 13,000.

The lockdown affecting large segments of the American public to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus is likely to last 10 to 12 weeks, or until early June, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday.

Lawmakers in Washington are nearing a deal that could pump a record $1 trillion into the economy to limit the economic damage from the coronavirus and will vote on the bill Monday.

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Mnuchin said the package would give an average U.S. family of four a one-time payment of $3,000.

Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky on Sunday became the first member of the Senate to announce he had tested positive for coronavirus. At least two members of the House of Representatives previously said they tested positive.

MEDICAL CRISIS

De Blasio said the city is not getting needed medical supplies from the federal government to contend with the rapid spread of the sometimes deadly illness.

Hospitals are scrambling for protective equipment for healthcare workers and for ventilators as they brace for a wave of patients who will need help breathing as severe cases often lead to pneumonia and decreased lung function.

Over the past week, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has been pushing for aggressive steps to stem the economic hit, after Trump spent several weeks downplaying the virus’ risks.

Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Sunday said the White House recognized the urgency of New York’s situation.

“Not only is New York trying to get resources themselves, but we’re going to be pouring it in from the federal government,” he told CBS News.

U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co Inc said it delivered 500,000 donated masks to New York City on Sunday morning.

Cuomo warned that 40% to 80% of New York state residents may eventually contract coronavirus. He chastised those who were still congregating in parks and other places and not practicing social distancing. He noted 53% of the cases in New York are between the ages of 18 and 49.

“It’s insensitive, arrogant, self-destructive … and it has to stop, and it has to stop now,” he said, adding he was giving New York City authorities 24 hours to come up with a plan to deal with the situation. “This is not a joke and I’m not kidding.”

(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Stay-at-home orders in major states mark next phase of U.S. coronavirus crisis

By Lisa Richwine and Gabriella Borter

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York and Illinois on Friday followed California in telling tens of millions of people to stay at home in the most sweeping measures the United States has taken so far to try to contain the coronavirus crisis.

The moves, which impact more than 70 million people or about a fifth of the U.S. population, close all but essential businesses and require people to stay inside except for trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other “essential businesses.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he planned to give similar orders shutting down all but essential businesses within the next 24 hours.

“To avoid the loss of tens of thousands of lives we must order an immediate shelter-in-place,” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said on Friday, using a term that has commonly referred to mass shootings. Illinois includes Chicago.

The four states where governors have banned or will soon ban non-essential businesses and ask residents to stay home account for about 30% of the U.S. economy, the world’s biggest.

In New York City’s Central Park, several bikers and joggers were on the pathways, mostly alone but a few in pairs.

“It’s real and it’s scary, I hate it,” said physical therapist Kerry Cashin, 49, of the stay-at-home order. “I feel like I always knew it was going to go this way, but it made me scared.”

Just two dozen people milled outside Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, the home of the Oscars, an area normally teeming with hundreds of tourists.

Zane Alexander, 27, said he was on his way to pick up his last paycheck “until lord knows when.” He had been working on a medical marijuana dispensary’s street team, a job that normally had him outside, but that team was disbanded until further notice.

“It’s totally understandable,” Alexander said, but added “I sure wish it weren’t the case.”

Retiree Jerry Rasmussen, 73, sat on a sunny public bench reading the San Francisco Chronicle in the city’s central neighborhood of Cole Valley, with hand sanitizer, gloves and a mask beside him.

“I figure being outdoors like this is pretty safe, as long as I’m not too close to anyone,” he said.

VENTILATORS NEEDED

Cuomo, in making his stay-at-home announcement, pleaded for more medical personnel and supplies such as ventilators and protective masks to treat coronavirus cases that could overwhelm the hospitals in his state of nearly 20 million.

“The ventilators are to this war what missiles were to World War Two,” Cuomo said. He said the state would “pay a premium” to companies that could provide more personal protective equipment, gloves and masks. He asked companies that might be capable of making these products to “get creative.”

Cuomo issued an executive order mandating all non-essential workforce to stay home and all non-essential businesses to close.

“Remain indoors, go outside for solitary exercise,” he said.

The pandemic that has swept the globe has also shattered lifestyles across much of the United States in the past week, shuttering schools and businesses, prompting millions to work from home, forcing many out of jobs and curtailing travel.

The health orders imposed on Thursday by California authorities on the state’s 40 million people allow for outside exercise as long as people stay six feet apart.

“We need to take it really seriously and prevent spread of the disease,” said venture capitalist Meredith Finn, 37, while walking her dog Brady in the affluent West Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood. “It’s definitely the right move.”

More than 1,000 cases have been confirmed in California, where 19 people have died. New York officials said the state has 7,102 confirmed cases and of those, 4,408 are in New York City, the most populous U.S. city with about 8.5 million people. Thirty-eight have died in the state.

Washington state, where the first U.S. coronavirus cluster emerged, has since March 16 closed bars, restaurants and recreation and entertainment facilities, and has banned all gatherings of more than 50 people.

More than 220 people have died in the United States and over 14,100 cases had been confirmed by Friday afternoon, the surge in cases reflecting an increase in testing. Health experts believe the actual number of COVID-19 cases to be far higher.

Click for a GRAPHIC on U.S. cases.

In Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump and other officials told reporters the United States was working with Mexico to suspend non-essential travel at the border. The border with Canada already is closed to non-essential traffic.

With businesses closing and daily life grinding to a near halt, and the U.S. unemployment benefits program about to face its biggest test in more than a decade, the Trump administration announced more moves to give relief to workers and students. Tax filing day was moved to July 15 from April 15, while interest and payments on federal student loans were suspended for at least the next 60 days.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Lucy Nicholson, Katie Paul, Nathan Layne, Bill Berkrot, Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Nick Brown and Jonnelle Marte, Ann Saphir and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Grant McCool; Editing by Howard Goller and Daniel Wallis)