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In drastic move, Italy shuts most factories to halt virus
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In drastic move, Italy shuts most factories to halt virus

In drastic move, Italy shuts most factories to halt virus
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Marco Vasini, File
FILE - In this Wednesday, May 8, 2013 file photo, a technician works at the Ferrari department factory in Maranello, Italy. The eurozone's third-largest economy and a major exporter, Italy on Wednesday becomes the first western industrialized nation to idle swaths of industrial production to stop the spread of coronavirus by keeping yet more of the population at home. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Marco Vasini, File)

In drastic move, Italy shuts most factories to halt virus

Italy has become the first western developed nation to idle most of its industry to halt the spread of the coronavirus, a potential cautionary tale for other governments, such as the Trump administration, that are resisting such drastic measures.

After more than two weeks of a nationwide lockdown, the Italian government decided to expand the mandatory closure of nonessential commercial activities to heavy industry in the eurozone's third-largest economy, a major exporter of machinery, textiles and other goods.

The move by Italy, which is leading the globe in virus deaths, is more in line with draconian measures taken by China than with declarations coming out of other democratic partners, who are at least a week or two behind Italy’s rate of virus infections.

The industrial closures put in stark contrast concerns over protecting lives in a country with an especially vulnerable aging population against fears of hurting an economy that already was on the brink of recession.

The industrial lobby Confindustria estimates a cost of 70 billion to 100 billion euros ($77 billion-$110 billion) of national wealth a month if 70% of companies are closed, as anticipated. Though some big companies had already suspended activities, thousands of smaller manufacturers had continued after adopting new safety regulations, and will now shut down.

“We are entering a war economy,’’ said Confindustria President Vincenzo Boccia.

Economists grow dizzy speculating on the possible economic drag in a country that never fully recovered from back-to-back recessions the last two decades. UniCredit bank's chief economist, Erik Nielson, expects the economy to shrink by a staggering 5% to 15% this year - and that's assuming a recovery toward the end of 2020 and takes into account a 25 billion-euro aid package and 350 billion euros in liquidity and credit. Another 25 billion-euro package has been promised. The Italian Treasury has put the virus hit at 5% to 7% of GDP in 2020.

‘’The economic consequences of the suspensions risks to be unsurmountable, because the continuity of companies is being interrupted for a substantially undetermined period,’’ Il Sole 24 Ore, the respected business daily of the Confindustria lobby, wrote Thursday.

The government decree mandates the industrial shutdown for one week, but as with the rest of the harsh containment measures they are likely to be extended depending on the pace of contagion.

It's a sobering prospect for other countries in Europe and for the United States, where President Donald Trump has said he aims to have commercial businesses reopen by mid-April, despite warnings from health experts that that is unlikely. There has been no discussion of closing U.S. manufacturing as a nationwide measure.

Unions in Italy have fought especially hard to have more sectors considered nonessential in order to protect workers. They won limits on activity at call centers as well as the production of plastic packaging, some paper and chemical products.

The powerful CGIL union confederation had said the government’s initial list counted 800,000 companies as essential, with workers numbering 7.5 million, or 57% of the workplace.

Italy’s moribund car industry has already been idled voluntarily, with Fiat Chrysler shutting down most of its Italian production and Ferrari converting a part of its factory to help make respirators. The tourism industry has been at a standstill for a month, and struggling Alitalia is virtually shut down. All non-essential commercial and retail activity was shuttered more than two weeks ago.

Premier Giuseppe Conte announced the new industry closures this weekend, citing the biggest emergency the country has faced since World War II. Industrial activities allowed to continue include many related to health care, agriculture and food production.

Under the measures, fashion house Prada said it will start producing 80,000 medical overalls and 110,000 masks for health care workers, and the Armani Group was converting to make single-use medical overalls. Work on a Genoa bridge to replace the one that fatally collapsed in August 2018 - considered of strategic importance - continued, while that on the Italian side of the Brenner Base Tunnel, which will be the longest rail tunnel in the world when completed, was suspended along with work on the Italian side of a high-speed rail tunnel to France.

In all, hundreds of thousands of small, medium-sized and large companies will be closed, with workers receiving partial salaries under short-term unemployment schemes that have been extended to even the smallest businesses.

They include Pirelli tiremaker, with Italy accounting for just 6% of global production, and Luxottica, the largest eyewear manufacturer in the world whose brands include Ray-Ban and Oakley.

The big concern for the small and medium-sized company owners that power Italy's economy is how long the shutdown will last, and how hard that will hurt cash-flow and hinder a smooth return to business.

"If the shut-down is two or three months, it might be as simple as turning a light back on, because supply chains and logistics are very efficient,’’ said Carlo Salvato, an expert in small and medium business at Bocconi University. ‘’But if the shutdown is longer and precipitates a deep slide in wealth, the patterns of consumption could change dramatically."

Olivari is a family-run maker of door handles based in northern province of Novara that survived two world wars, during which it was converted to munitions production due to its expertise with brass and aluminum. But in this shut down - despite the war metaphors - there is no war machine to balance losses from the forced closure.

Antonio Olivari, head of research and development, said the business, which counts 80 workers and annual revenue of around 15 million euros, can bounce back from two weeks or a month of a shut down. “It makes no sense to produce now anyway, with hardware stores and other channels closed,” he said. But if it drags on for months, issues emerge, like salaries.

And people's priorities and habits could be different after this crisis, Olivari said. ‘’Will people still want to invest in finishing or remodeling a home? There may be other priorities. It will be an anomaly that we have never experienced.’’

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His wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, tested negative but will be in self-isolation until the end of the week. Charles’ mother Queen Elizabeth II, 93, is at her Windsor Castle home west of London with her 98-year-old husband, Prince Philip. Saudi Arabian health officials report 154 new COVID-19 cases Update 9:45 a.m. EDT March 30: Officials in Saudi Arabia announced 154 new coronavirus cases Monday, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 1,453. According to the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health, health personnel have linked 16 of the new cases to travel. Officials said 138 cases stemmed from direct contact with a person previously diagnosed with COVID-19. Eight people have died of the 2019 novel coronavirus in Saudi Arabia. 93 new coronavirus deaths reported in the Netherlands Update 9:35 a.m. EDT March 30: Health officials in the Netherlands recorded 93 new deaths related to the 2019 novel coronavirus on Monday, raising the country’s COVID-19 death toll to 864. 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The authorization allows the donated drugs “to be distributed and prescribed by doctors to hospitalized teen and adult patients with COVID-19, as appropriate, when a clinical trial is not available or feasible,” the release said. In addition, the authorization “requires that fact sheets that provide important information about using chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate in treating COVID-19 be made available to health care providers and patients, including the known risks and drug interactions,” according to the FDA’s website. Read more here or here. New York City to fine people who violate social-distancing rules Update 5:20 a.m. EDT March 30: New York City will fine those who fail to follow social-distancing guidelines, officials said. 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The carrier tweeted Monday that entitlements for customers whose flights were canceled “are available for up to a year after your flight was originally due to depart.” >> See the tweets here 'I Love Rock 'n' Roll' songwriter Alan Merrill dies of complications from virus Update 3:23 a.m. EDT March 30: Alan Merrill, best known for writing the hit song “I Love Rock 'n' Roll,” died Sunday morning after experiencing coronavirus complications. He was 69. According to USA Today, Merrill’s daughter, Laura, said in a Facebook post that her father died at a New York City hospital. “I was given two minutes to say my goodbyes before I was rushed out,” she wrote of Merrill, who also was a guitarist and vocalist. “He seemed peaceful, and as I left, there was still a glimmer of hope that he wouldn’t be a ticker on the right-hand side of the CNN/Fox News screen.” She said she walked home and received the news of his death by the time she reached her apartment. “I’ve made a million jokes about the ‘Rona’ and how it’ll ‘getcha’ ... boy, do I feel stupid,” she continued. “If anything can come of this, I beg of you to take this seriously. Money doesn’t matter. People are dying. You don’t think it’ll happen to you or your strong family. 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Costco to temporarily change store hours Update 1:31 a.m. EDT March 30: In an effort to help protect its customers, Costco announced it will temporarily implement new weekday closing hours for its locations nationwide. Beginning Monday, all its warehouses will close at 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and its gas stations will close at 7 p.m. However, it said some specific locations’ hours would be different. The wholesale giant said its weekend hours would remain the same. For its members ages 60 and older and those with physical impairments, Costco has special operating hours from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Costco said it has made some temporary department changes to create more space for social distancing and is following CDC recommendations to minimize risk to its members and employees. U.S. cases soar past 142,000, including more than 2,500 deaths Update 12:39 a.m. EDT March 30: The number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States soared past 142,000 across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands early Sunday. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, there are at least 142,502 confirmed U.S. cases of the virus, which have resulted in at least 2,506 deaths. Worldwide, there are 722,435 confirmed cases and 33,997 deaths from the virus. U.S. cases outnumber those in any other nation, including the 97,689 reported in Italy and the 82,149 confirmed in China. Of the confirmed deaths, 966 have occurred in New York, 200 in Washington state, 161 in New Jersey and 151 in Louisiana. In terms of diagnosed cases, New York remains the hardest-hit with at least 59,746 confirmed cases, followed by New Jersey with 13,386, California with 6,284 and Michigan with 5,488. Four other states have each confirmed at least 4,000 novel coronavirus cases, including: • Massachusetts: 4,955, including 48 deaths • Florida: 4,950, including 60 deaths • Illinois: 4,596, including 66 deaths • Washington: 4,493, including 200 deaths Meanwhile, Louisiana and Pennsylvania have confirmed at least 3,000 novel coronavirus infections each, while Texas, Georgia and Colorado have confirmed at least 2,000 cases each. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • It’s a sweet deal for health care workers battling to contain the coronavirus. Krispy Kreme announced in a news release that beginning Monday, it will give away a dozen of its Original Glazed doughnuts to health care workers. The promotion will last through May 11. “Just go to a Krispy Kreme drive-thru, tell us what you need and show us your employer badge,” Krispy Kreme said in its release. “That’s it. Pick up some free dozens on the way to work for you and your colleagues, or maybe a free dozen on your way home to family after a long shift.” Krispy Kreme also announced that on Saturdays, customers who buy at least one dozen Original Glazed doughnuts will receive another dozen for free. The free dozen doughnuts, which will be handed out to drive-thru, pickup and delivery customers. will also include a smiley-face doughnut, Krispy Kreme said in its release.
  • You can’t visit a Disney theme park these days due to restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus. That doesn’t mean Disney cannot come to you. On Wednesday, the Disneyland Dapper Dans went online to sing an all-time Disney classic, “When You Wish Upon A Star,” the theme park said in its blog. For years, the Dapper Dans have harmonized in the Main Street U.S.A. section of Disney theme parks. With a repertoire of songs that include “Grim Grinning Ghosts” and “When I See An Elephant Fly,” the Dapper Dans will continue to perform while the parks remain closed. People can watch the group’s #VoicesFromHome performance and vote for their next song on the Disney Parks Blog.
  • President Donald Trump signed the largest relief package in U.S. history on Friday afternoon, paving the way for $2 trillion to be injected into an economy stunted by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The bill will bolster unemployment insurance and pour money into businesses, health-care providers and state and local governments. In addition, some 80 percent of U.S. adults will see stimulus checks of up to $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couples. The federal government will also include $500 for each child or dependent. How much will you get and how is it determined? Here’s a look at the plan. Note: The amount the check will be is be based on your 2019 tax return if it has been filed, or your 2018 tax return if you have not yet filed this year. Those filing income tax returns as “single” with adjusted gross incomes up to $75,000 a year will be eligible for a $1,200 check. The payment amount drops by $5 for every $100 in income above $75,000. Those who file as “married filing jointly” can receive a check for $2,400 check if their adjusted gross income was below $150,000. Married couples will get checks on a sliding scale up to $198,000. Married couples will also receive $500 for each child they claimed on their tax return. If you filed as “head of household” you are eligible for a $1,200 check and $500 for each child you claimed if your adjusted gross income was $112,500 or less. You can receive a check on a sliding scale if you earn up to $136,500 annually. Those who file “head of household” are typically single parents). If you receive a Social Security check and do not exceed the income limits above, you are eligible to receive the coronavirus relief check. If you receive a Social Security check and do not make enough money to require you to file a tax return, you will still receive a check as long as you received an SSA-1099 form. The form is sent annually and includes your Social Security benefits statement. The check will be delivered to you via the usual way you get your Social Security payment. People who receive disability checks from Social Security are eligible for the special payment. Where are the checks sent? If you have filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019, the Internal Revenue Service will send the check to the bank account number you used for the direct deposit information included on that return. Or, if you did not include direct deposit information on your tax form, the IRS will mail the check to you at the address you included on your tax form. If you did not file a 2019 tax return yet, the IRS will check to see if you filed a 2018 return and use that information to send your check. If you get a Social Security check, the IRS will deliver the stimulus check in the same way you get your Social Security check each month. Will taxes be taken out of the check? No, the checks will not be taxed. Whatever amount you qualify for, you will receive that amount. When will I get it? Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin has said the checks are scheduled to begin being distributed on April 6, though that is not a set date. How can I find out how much I will get? The IRS has created a webpage for information about the checks, but much of the information has not been posted. The Washington Post created this calculator to help you estimate the amount you will receive. You can answer a couple of questions and the calculator will estimate the amount you will likely receive.
  • A Florida man is facing several charges after he told a deputy he tested positive for COVID-19 and coughed toward the deputy, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office said. Deputies said Christian Perez, 23, was taken into custody after he was stopped for reckless driving. Perez reportedly told deputies he had COVID-19, so deputies provided him with a protective mask to cover his mouth. Deputies said at one point, Perez removed the mask and began intentionally coughing toward a deputy. The deputy got the mask back on Perez’s mouth to reduce the risk of contamination, officials said. Deputies said Perez was charged with driving under the influence, driving without a license, assault on a deputy and threatening a public servant. Sheriff William Snyder said men and women of law enforcement encounter enough dangers daily without actions like this. “We have zero tolerance for this despicable behavior, and anyone who threatens the health and lives of my deputies will face the maximum charges,' Snyder said.
  • A metro Atlanta housekeeper says her services are more in demand now that coronavirus has hit. Four years after launching her business, Teresa Goodman tells WSB that her housekeeping appointments are way up.  'Mine have doubled or tripled,' says Goodman. 'I have clients, I only go to them like once a month. But when the coronavirus came in, I go once a week.'  She says homeowners, anxious over the bug, want to make sure their houses stay healthy.  'Everyone wants their home clean and sanitized, so really it picked up for me,' Goodman says. She has begun carrying an additional DIY alcohol-based disinfectant that she begins using on the doorknob as soon as she steps up to a client's door. Frequently-grabbed places like closets, appliance handles, and drawer pulls get the spritz, too.  Homeowners like to see Goodman clean and disinfect the rooms where they hang out the most, and the items they touch the most.  'Telephones, TV remotes, the arm of the chairs, computers, faucets,' she explains.   Goodman admits that she was a bit nervous at first to keep going into clients' homes amid the viral concerns, but says the job is essential to her family.  'I am, but it's a business. You got to do what you've got to do for your family. I just stay prayed up,' says Goodman, who adds that the job is important to her clients.  'They trust me to do a good job,' she says. Goodman changes gloves in between one room and the next, and noted that her attention to detail and even her products have led to smiles.  'A neighbor came over and said, 'You know that Lysol you've got is worth more than gold now!' We just laughed, laughed, laughed. I said, 'You're right.''  She hopes the new handwashing and extra-cleanliness habits people are forming stick with us post- pandemic.  'Don't wait until after the coronavirus,' says Goodman. 'Say they say it leaves or whatever, you want to stop. Wrong thing. Keep doing what you're doing. Just keep your house sanitized--or call me. And I'll come do it for you.