Unemployment continues to increase in US; Spain, UK outline gradual opening of travel


The Atlantic Council’s Coronavirus Alert is a regular summary of policy, economic, and business events around the emergency. To stay updated, sign up to the Coronavirus Alert here.

In top stories today:

  • New claims for unemployment continued to rise in the United States, which pledged as much as $1.2 billion to secure vaccine shots from AstraZeneca. The UK and Spain outlined early steps in a resumption of domestic travel, while international vacations remain in the balance.   
  • Two months after the coronavirus outbreak started shuttering US businesses, job losses continue as 2.44 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the week ended May 16, Bloomberg reported, citing the US Labor Department. Economists expected there to be 2.4 million new claims, the newswire said. 
  • The average number of new daily cases of coronavirus over the past week worldwide, at more than 91,000, is the highest ever, driven by the growing number of cases in the United States and outbreaks in Russia and Brazil, The New York Times reported, citing its own data. The average weekly number of deaths has been falling, however, the newspaper added.  
  • The rapid increase of coronavirus cases in the southern hemisphere suggests the virus may flare up again in the fall and winter in the United States, the Financial Times reported, citing an exclusive interview with Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That raises the possibility of a second round of lockdowns, the newspaper added.  
  • China started a key political event on May 21 after a two-month delay because of coronavirus, in what the government says is another sign of its victory over the outbreak that started in Wuhan late last year, the Associated Press reported. Rank-and-file members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference wore masks but top officials did not, the news service added.  
  • “What Xi knew: pressure builds on China’s leader” That’s the headline to a long-form Financial Times article, as President Xi Jinping faces scrutiny on how Beijing dealt with the early outbreak of coronavirus.  
  • Sweden has the highest per capita death rate from coronavirus in the world, overtaking the United Kingdom, Italy, and Belgium, which puts the country’s decision to avoid a strict lockdown into further doubt, The Telegraph reported. Sweden had 6.08 deaths per million people per day between May 13 and May 20, according to figures collated by the website Our World in Data, the newspaper said.  
  • QUOTE: “We can say that the worst is behind us… we cannot stop to wait for a vaccine, otherwise we would find ourselves with an irreparably compromised society and production system,” said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Reuters reported.  
  • Economic activity declined at a slower pace in May in the eurozone after the bloc’s biggest economies started to ease lockdown measures, the Financial Times reported, citing a closely watched survey of services and manufacturing business activity. Even so, the region is on track for a historic contraction in the second quarter, the newspaper added.
  • QUOTE: “Chinese economic aggression requires that the United States and its allies form a NATO for trade,” Robert D. Atkinson, former co-chair of the Obama administration’s US-China Innovation Experts Group, and Clyde Prestowitz, a trade negotiator during the Reagan administration, wrote in The Washington Post. “It is time for a new approach under which democratic, rule-of-law-nations agree to come to each other’s economic aid against an outside adversary.”  


  • The United States has secured nearly a third of AstraZeneca’s potential one billion coronavirus shots by pledging as much as $1.2 billion to the drug maker, allowing AstraZeneca to accelerate the development of a vaccine, Reuters reported. World leaders see vaccines, while not yet proven to be effective, as the only sure way to restart shuttered economies, and the biggest economies are scrambling to gain access to potential supplies, Reuters added.  
  • Banning mass gatherings may be enough to keep coronavirus in check, along with measures including wearing face masks, some scientists believe, The Wall Street Journal reported. By studying so-called superspreader events—large public gatherings where hundreds of people can get infected in the space of a few hours, from UK horse races to carnival festivities in the United States and Germany—scientists can better understand how the virus spreads in crowded conditions, the newspaper said.  
  • UK health workers in Brighton and Oxford will be able to take part in a trial to determine whether chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine can prevent coronavirus infection, whereas previous trials looked at whether the drugs can treat the condition, Sky News reported. Bangkok-based Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit is leading the investigation, Sky said. US President Donald J. Trump has said hydroxychloroquine is a possible way to prevent coronavirus, the news website added.  
  • READ MORE: The Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center convenes an expert panel to explore how mobilizing industry can encourage multi-sector solutions to address emergent global concerns on Thursday, May 21 at 12:30 pm EST. Details here.


  • Spain’s national parliament approved another—the fifth in a row—two-week extension to the country’s coronavirus lockdown, ABC News reported. Under a law coming into force on May 21, wearing a mask inside and outside is compulsory if social distancing cannot be observed, the BBC reported. Teresa Ribera, the country’s environment minister, said citizens should be able to travel within Spain, helping to open the door to international visitors, the Financial Times cited her as saying in an interview.  
  • UK low-cost carrier EasyJet plans to restart a small number of flights on June 15, joining Air France-KLM, Lufthansa, and Wizz in making it compulsory for passengers to wear masks on board, Reuters reported. London’s Heathrow Airport also said it’s started a trial to take the temperatures of departing passengers, the newswire added.  
  • Vacations within the UK could start again as soon as early July, the United Kingdom’s culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said at the daily coronavirus briefing on May 20, The Guardian reported.  
  • India will resume domestic flights on May 25, with all passengers required to wear face masks, The New York Times reported. The services will resume two months after all the country’s passenger flights were grounded to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the newspaper said.  
  • The mayor of Mexico City said the capital will start to reopen gradually from June 1, even as the country recorded its largest daily death toll from coronavirus, the Associated Press reported. Authorities predict the outbreak is close to its peak in Mexico City, one of the world’s biggest cities with nine million residents, but hospitals in the capital are already about three-quarters full, the news service added.  
  • The statistics say… Deaths nationwide in Mexico increased by 424 to 6,090 on May 20, compared to last week’s one-day record of 353 fatalities. Infections rose to 56,594 but the true number is probably much higher as Mexico carries out so few tests, the Associated Press said.  
  • Global human development will decline for the first time since 1990, when the concept was first developed, because of the coronavirus pandemic, CNBC reported, citing a May 20 report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Fundamental areas of living standards will decline in both rich and poor countries and in every region, the report said.
  • QUOTE: “For vast swathes of the globe, the pandemic will leave deep, deep scars,” said Achim Steiner, the UNDP’s administrator, CNBC reported.