US unemployment claims rise, Europe job cuts likely; South Korea, Europe cases increase


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:

  • Claims for unemployment unexpectedly rose in the United States, a stumble on the long road to recovery, while more job cuts look likely in Europe following the vacation season. Infections are back in “full swing” in South Korea and increasing in many European countries too.
  • Germany and Spain recorded the highest daily number of infections since April, while other countries in Europe including Italy and France also posted a sharp increase in new cases, CNBC reported. That might be due to a relaxation of public-health measures and people “dropping their guard,” the World Health Organization said, CNBC added. Many cases have no known origin, hampering contact-tracing efforts, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron ruled out a new shutdown while Spain appeared rudderless, Bloomberg said, as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is on a family vacation and hasn’t come out to address the public. While the increase in cases in recent weeks has been blamed on travel and social gatherings, governments are desperate to avoid the dramatic hit to economies caused by lockdowns earlier in the year, the newswire added.  
  • Infections are back “in full swing” in South Korea and spreading across the country after churchgoers attended a demonstration, Reuters said, citing the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A week of triple-digit daily increases in new cases threatens one of the world’s success stories on containing the spread of the pandemic, the newswire added.
  • QUOTE: “This is a grave situation that could possibly lead to a nationwide pandemic,” South Korea’s Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing, Reuters reported.
  • Residents of the Chinese capital Beijing no longer need to wear masks outdoors unless they come into close contact with a stranger, The New York Times reported, citing new guidelines by health officials on August 20. China has reported fewer than three hundred infections in the past week, the Times added, citing its own database.
  • Life has returned to a relatively normal rhythm in Wuhan, the Chinese city of 11 million that was the epicenter of the original outbreak, The Washington Post said in a photo story that shows bustling streets and festivities including a musical festival at a water park. China state media backed the amusement park amid concern about the spread of infections after pictures of a crowded pool party went viral, Reuters reported.


  • The number of workers seeking US unemployment benefits rose to 1.1 million last week, following two weeks of declines, showing that employers are still cutting jobs as the pandemic hurts the economy, The Associated Press reported. The unexpected increase represents a stumble for the labor market’s long road to recovery, Bloomberg reported.
  • Qantas said trading conditions are the worst in its one-hundred-year history, as the Australian flag carrier posted a fiscal full-year loss of almost two billion Australian dollars, the BBC reported. About four thousand of its planned six thousand job cuts will be finalized by the end of September, the broadcaster added. The results were for the twelve months through June, CNBC said.
  • QUOTE: “The impact of COVID on all airlines is clear. It’s devastating and it will be a question of survival for many,” Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said in a statement, the BBC reported. “Recovery will take time and it will be choppy.”
  • One in ten people living in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) member countries in 2018 were foreign nationals, but the pandemic has pushed many out of their adopted homes back to their homelands, at a cost to host countries in economic, population growth and social welfare terms, Quartz said on August 19. It published charts on the changes in the United States, Japan, China, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada.
  • “It’s Crunch Time for European Workers After Summer Job Cuts” reads a Bloomberg headline. While Europe’s unemployment numbers look better than those in the United States, that won’t last as some of the aid that has helped countries including Germany, France, and the United Kingdom is about to expire, the newswire said. Estee Lauder plans to cut 1,500 to 2,000 jobs globally after lockdowns hit demand for cosmetics, Bloomberg reported separately.
  • EVENT: Join us for a discussion on how the United States will shape the opportunities and challenges of the next decade in cyberspace. Details of this Atlantic Council Elections 2020 event, on Wednesday, August 20, at 12:00 p.m. EDT are here.
  • Sales growth at e-commerce giant Alibaba, China’s most valuable corporation, is almost back to pre-pandemic levels, Bloomberg reported. Revenue in the quarter through June increased by a better-than-expected 34 percent to 153.8 billion yuan ($22.2 billion), a sign that Chinese consumer sentiment is recovering at a rapid pace from its COVID-19 trough, as the newswire put it.
  • PwC, the United Kingdom’s largest accounting firm, delayed posting its results for the twelve months through June until January as it weighs up the impact of the pandemic on pay and bonuses for staff and partners, the Financial Times reported.
  • North Korea said the triple impact of the pandemic, international sanctions, and flood damage have significantly delayed plans to improve the isolated nation’s economy, The New York Times reported. The assessment by the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party was an unprecedented admission that North Korea’s progress has faltered, the Times added.
  • The Australian dollar, known as the Aussie in currency markets, is at its strongest against the dollar since early 2019 helped by factors including a rally in iron ore and gold offsetting the economic impact of the pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • Children could pose a risk in spreading coronavirus infections, emerging research shows, raising the stakes for educators and families as US students return to classes, Reuters reported. Recent studies are beginning to demonstrate how contagious infected children, including those with no symptoms, might be, the newswire said.
  • QUOTE: “Contrary to what we believed, based on the epidemiological data, kids are not spared from this pandemic,” said Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of a new study, Reuters reported.


  • QUOTE: Could African medicine be mobilized to fight COVID-19? “Talk of indigenous medicine is often greeted with condescending colonial stereotypes of witch-doctors peddling snake oil,” Patrick Gathara wrote in the Financial Times. “Yet while quacks and fraudsters doubtless exist, there is compelling evidence that the majority of practitioners are skilled and experienced, and that their herbal prescriptions can be effective.”
  • The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union (EU), and German biotech firm CureVac are in advanced talks for the supply of at least 225 million doses of a potential vaccine to EU member states, Reuters reported. The Commission is also in negotiations with Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi for access to their potential vaccines, and last week it struck a deal with AstraZeneca for at least 300 million doses of the shot it’s developing with Oxford University, the newswire added.
  • The statistics say… Almost 30 percent of residents in New Delhi, India’s capital with a population of about 16 million, have had coronavirus, Bloomberg reported, citing a study of more than 15,000 people by local health authorities.
  • Health trackers such as smartphones and Fitbits can help to detect coronavirus before symptoms appear, and their mass deployment could be a powerful public-health weapon, Bloomberg reported. But most studies require participants to wear their own devices, which at between fifty and four hundred dollars apiece excludes many low-income workers who are among the most vulnerable to infection, the newswire said.


  • Relief efforts by South Africa’s government to address the coronavirus crisis have faltered amid widespread allegations of fraud and mismanagement, The New York Times reported. Examples range from contracts given to family members of officials, food parcels gone astray, and the siphoning off of funds meant for unemployment insurance, the Times said. That’s undermined confidence in the government, which initially received international praise for its assertive response including a strict lockdown, the article added.  
  • QUOTE: Those accused of corruption are “a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said and has announced a new law enforcement unit to investigate the allegations, The New York Times reported.
  • The statistics say… South Africa, the worst-hit country in Africa, has recorded more than 590,000 coronavirus cases, the fifth-highest level of infections worldwide, The New York Times reported.
  • As schools are finally reopening in Haiti following closures first due to months of unrest and then the coronavirus pandemic, many parents can no longer afford to send their children back to classes, Reuters reported. That raises the prospect that hard-won gains in Haiti, where only an estimated two-thirds of adults can read and write, could be eroded, the newswire added.
  • EVENT: Join us for a conversation featuring KC Choi, Melissa Flagg, Derry Goberdhansingh, and Terry Halvorsen, hosted by Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center Director Dr. David Bray, on tech issues and the future. Details of this Atlantic Council Elections 2020 event, on Wednesday, August 20, at 3:00 p.m. EDT are here.