US jobless claims in millions for eighth straight week, global leaders call for accessible vaccine


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:

  • US unemployment registered in the millions for an eighth week in a row as the economy reeled from the impact of coronavirus shutdowns. Patents were in the news as a roster of leaders past and present called for any vaccine to be widely produced and freely available.  
  • QUOTE: “It is important to put this on the table: This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” said Mike Ryan, the head of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergency response team, The New York Times reported. Even if a vaccine is found, controlling the virus will demand a “massive effort,” Ryan also said, the BBC reported.  
  • The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits stayed in the millions for an eighth week in a row, taking the total to 36.5 million as the US economy reels from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Bloomberg reported. Initial claims reached 2.98 million in the week ended May 9, the Labor Department said, compared with the 2.5 million economists expected, the newswire added.  
  • Patents were in the news, with the Financial Times leading its world coverage with a call by three African leaders and more than 140 public figures that any coronavirus vaccine should be patent-free, made at scale and available at no cost to people everywhere. Fifty former world leaders were among signatories to the open letter, the newspaper added.  
  • QUOTE: “We cannot afford for monopolies, crude competition and nearsighted nationalism to stand in our way,” said the letter, organized by UNAids and Oxfam, the Financial Times reported. Among former leaders to sign it were Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Gordon Brown of the UK and Helen Clark of New Zealand, as well as economists including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the newspaper said. 
  • Two advocacy groups wrote to the Indian government asking that it rescind patents given to Gilead Sciences for the drug remdesivir to ensure fairer distribution of the treatment worldwide, especially in poorer countries, Reuters reported. Remdesivir is the only drug approved to treat coronavirus, said Reuters, adding that patenting in India is an important issue because many countries depend on generic drug makers to give them more affordable access to treatments.  
  • The US economy faces risks without precedent from the coronavirus outbreak unless fiscal and monetary policymakers rise to the challenge, said Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, who pushed back against the possible use of negative interest rates as a way to encourage spending, Bloomberg reported. Powell made the remarks at a May 13 virtual event hosted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, the newswire added. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sought to reassure investors after Powell’s comments, Bloomberg also said. 
  • Japan plans to lift restrictions in thirty-nine of the country’s forty-seven prefectures after the number of daily coronavirus cases fell for four weeks, The New York Times reported. The state of emergency stays in place in Japan’s most populous areas including Tokyo and Osaka, the newspaper added.  
  • The coronavirus pandemic is taking a heavy toll on mental health, from health professionals to laid-off workers and elderly people suffering from anxiety and loneliness, the United Nations (UN) said in a policy document published on May 14, the BBC reported. The UN urged countries to incorporate mental health and psycho-social support in their pandemic response plans, the BBC said.  
  • QUOTE: “The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil—they all cause or could cause psychological distress,” said Devora Kestel, director of the WHO’s mental health department, Reuters reported. “The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis and are a priority to be addressed urgently.” 
  • Beijing warned that an order by US President Donald J. Trump to stop the main pension fund for the US government from investing in Chinese stocks will only harm US investors, as tensions between the two nations risk escalating into a “financial fight,” the Financial Times reported. Trump wrote to the pension fund on May 12, the newspaper added.  
  • “NATO and Russia Flex Their Muscles, but Coronavirus Is a Common Foe,” runs the headline to a Wall Street Journal article that leads its world coverage. Parades and exercises have been scaled back or cancelled as forces maintain vigilance about the possible spread of coronavirus, the newspaper said.  
  • READ MORE: “Even amid officialdom’s finger-pointing and gamesmanship during coronavirus, Americans innately understand that national political infirmity isn’t so much caused by the people in power,” writes the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security’s John Raidt. “They are symptoms, and in some cases, even victims of underlying disorder in the body politic.” 


  • Treating coronavirus with blood plasma from convalescing sufferers of the disease appears to be safe, according to a study of five thousand hospitalized patients in the United States by researchers at Mayo Clinic, Michigan State University, and Johns Hopkins University, The Wall Street Journal reported. The study, which hasn’t been peer reviewed or published in a scientific journal, appeared on a public server called Medrxiv, the newspaper said.  
  • A vaccine against coronavirus could be ready for approval by early 2021 under an “optimistic” scenario, the European Medicines Agency’s head of vaccines, Marco Cavaleri, told reporters on May 14, adding that he was skeptical about claims a shot could be ready by September, Reuters reported. 


  • Crisis at a time of plenty? The pandemic hit at a time of ample food reserves and abundant harvests, but disruptions including to processing and transport, along with protectionism, have severely disrupted global supply chains and put the world’s most vulnerable regions in peril, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing the price for staple crops wheat and rice, amongst other effects.  
  • QUOTE: “In the past, we have always dealt with either a demand-side crisis, or a supply-side crisis. But this is both—a supply and a demand crisis at the same time, and at a global level,” said Arif Husain, chief economist at the UN World Food Program, The Wall Street Journal reported. “This makes it unprecedented and uncharted.” 
  • The coronavirus pandemic, which struck in what was supposed to be a landmark year for biodiversity, has disrupted conservation work and funding, the BBC reported, citing conservation groups. That may have repercussions for years ahead, the BBC said, adding that new goals on global biodiversity are due to be set at a conference in October.  


  • Loved ones can visit and chat to care-home residents in Montijo, across the River Tagus from Portugal’s capital city Lisbon, thanks to a “box of emotions,” an air-conditioned glass booth with a two-way microphone that sits outside the building in front of a window, Reuters reported. Visits to care homes are banned under lockdown restrictions to protect frail residents from the risk of contracting coronavirus, but their doors will reopen on May 18 subject to social distancing, the newswire said.  
  • QUOTE: “Makes you want to hold him,” Maria das Merces, 63, said of her ninety-year-old father after a fifteen-minute visit in the glass contraption, Reuters reported. “I don’t think I would be able to resist if the glass window wasn’t here.” 


  • Social distancing measures will be “ruinous” for the travel industry, said Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths, CNBC reported. First-quarter passenger number dropped by a fifth at the airport, among the world’s largest travel hubs, CNBC said. Passenger numbers at Frankfurt Airport in Germany fell by 97 percent in April compared with a year earlier, the BBC reported. 
  • Burundi, which faces criticism for going ahead with May 20 elections despite the coronavirus pandemic, has expelled its WHO representative and three other health officials, giving them forty-eight hours to leave, the BBC reported. The East African country’s foreign ministry has given no reason for the expulsions, the BBC said.  
  • READ MORE: “Multilateralism is on the ropes on several fronts—with some astute observers speculating that this might be an existential moment for the post-World War II ecosystem of relationships among nations, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) may be the one organization that truly is confronting a generational crossroads,” writes the Atlantic Council’s Mark Linscott
  • QUOTE: “[W]hat we do get is the pure joy on the customers’ faces when they see a cold glass of beer for the first time in six weeks,” said Peter Brown, the director of Forest Road Brewing in London, who fills pint glasses out of taps on the side of a van bearing the slogan “tactical beer response unit… The look on their faces is just irreplaceable,” Reuters reported.