Some US manufacturers reopening amid fierce political heat

Some US manufacturers reopening amid fierce political heat

SEATTLE — Boeing and at least one other U.S. heavy-equipment manufacturer resumed production and some states rolled out aggressive reopening plans Monday, despite nationwide concerns there is not enough testing yet to keep the coronavirus from rebounding.

Boeing said it was putting about 27,000 people back to work this week building passenger jets at its Seattle-area plants, with virus-slowing precautions in place, including face masks and staggered shifts. Doosan Bobcat, a farm equipment maker and North Dakota’s largest manufacturer, announced the return of about 2,200 workers at three factories around the state.

Elsewhere around the world, step-by-step reopenings were underway in Europe, where the crisis has begun to ebb in places such as Italy, Spain and Germany. Parts of the continent are perhaps weeks ahead of the U.S. on the infection curve of the virus, which has killed around 170,000 people worldwide, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The reopenings in the U.S. are a drop in the bucket compared with the more than 22 million Americans thrown out of work by the crisis.

In a dispute that has turned nakedly political, the president has been agitating to restart the economy, singling out Democratic-led states and egging on protesters who feel governors are moving too slowly.

Some states — mostly Republican-led ones — have relaxed restrictions, and on Monday announced that they would take further steps to reopen their economies.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced that gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlours were among businesses that could reopen Friday — as long as owners followed strict social distancing and hygiene requirements. He said that as of next Monday, movie theatres could resume selling tickets and restaurants limited to takeout orders could go back to limited dine-in service.

Texas on Monday began a week of slow reopenings, starting off with state parks, while officials said that later in the week, stores would be allowed to offer curbside service. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday that businesses across most of the state would begin reopening as early as next week. Both states are also led by Republicans.

But governors from many other states say they lack the testing supplies they need and warn they could get hit by a second wave of infections, given how people with no symptoms can still spread the disease.

“Who in this great state actually believes that they care more about jet skiing than saving the lives of the elderly or the vulnerable?” Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer remarked, referring to restrictions in place in her state. “This action isn’t about our individual right to gather. It’s about our parents’ right to live.”

Trump took to Twitter to complain that the “radical left” and “Do Nothing Democrats” are “playing a very dangerous political game” by complaining about a testing shortage. At the same time, Vice-President Mike Pence told governors that Washington is working around-the-clock to help them ramp up testing.

The death toll in the U.S. stood at more than 40,000 — the highest in the world — with over 750,000 confirmed infections, by Johns Hopkins’ count. The true figures are believed to be much higher, in part because of limited testing and difficulties in counting the dead.

In other developments:

— Massachusetts has emerged as an alarming hot spot of contagion, with over 1,700 dead and officials hoping to bend the curve through aggressive contract tracing.

— New York, with the worst outbreak in the nation, reported that hospitalizations in the state have levelled off and the day’s death toll, at 478, was the lowest in three weeks, down from a peak of nearly 800. Still, the city cancelled three of its biggest June events: the Puerto Rican Day parade, the Israel parade and the gay pride march.

— A meatpacking plant in Minnesota was shut down after an outbreak there. But Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds refused to order the closing of any slaughterhouses in her state that are seeing alarming increases in COVID-19, saying: “Without them, people’s lives and our food supply will be impacted.”

Mobilized by the far right, many Americans have taken to the streets in places such as Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, complaining that the shutdowns are destroying their livelihoods and trampling their rights.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, warned on ABC: “Unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen.”

Boeing’s shutdown went into effect March 25 after workers tested positive for the virus and an inspector for the company died. Washington was the first state to see a spike in COVID-19 cases and enacted strict shutdown orders that helped tamp the virus down.

The crisis has exacerbated problems at Boeing, which is in dire financial trouble and under federal investigation over two crashes of its 737 MAX jetliner that killed 346 people.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, deemed aerospace manufacturing an essential business and expects Boeing “will undertake rigorous safety protocols,” a spokeswoman said.

Businesses that start operating again are likely to engender good will with the Trump administration at a time when it is doling out billions in relief to companies.

At Boeing, union representatives spent the day walking through factories to see what safeguards had been put in place. The union also advised its members that they could use their “red cards,” which they carry behind their Boeing badges, to stop work in case of imminent danger.

At Doosan Bobcat, spokeswoman Stacey Breuer said the reopening came after two weeks spent putting in safety measures.

“There is definitely still some concern and do we feel 100% safe? Obviously not,” said William Wilkinson, a Bobcat welder and president of a United Steelworkers union local. He said workers there were wearing face masks and keeping their distance from one another.

Detroit’s major automakers suspended operations a month ago but are negotiating with union leaders in hopes of reopening in May. Some operations are being converted to build ventilators.

Even with the outbreak easing in places, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, cautioned, “The worst is yet ahead of us.” He did not specify why he believes so. But there are signs the virus is swelling in Africa, where the health care system is in poor condition.

In Europe, meanwhile, cars are about to begin rolling off some assembly lines in Germany, Sweden and Slovakia. In Australia, the country’s longest-running soap opera, “Neighbours,” planned to restart shooting, and one city reopened beaches for exercise like swimming, running and surfing, but not for sunbathing.

“Living along the coast, I know how important our beaches are to the mental and physical health of so many,” said Danny Said, mayor of Randwick.

Hair salons, dentists, physical therapists and tattoo parlours were allowed to reopen in Denmark, but it was not business as usual.

Christel Lerche sprayed chairs with alcohol at her salon in suburban Copenhagen and provided hand sanitizer and plastic coat hangers — to be cleaned after each use — to customers keen to get their hair styled for the first time in over a month. No magazines were left for customers to share.

India eased the world’s largest lockdown to allow some manufacturing and agricultural activity to resume. Iran began opening intercity highways and major shopping centres.

In Italy, tensions have been growing between northern regions, which are pushing to reopen industry despite being hit hardest by the virus, and the south, which fears contagion if the lockdown is eased. Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to outline this week what the next phase may look like.

Still, Gucci restarted some workshops for leather accessories and shoes.

In Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still recovering from a bout of COVID-19 that put him in intensive care, authorities have cautioned that the lockdown is unlikely to be significantly loosened in the short term.

France also is still under a tight lockdown, although starting Monday, authorities allowed families, under strict conditions, to visit relatives in nursing homes once again.

___

Long reported from Washington, Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands. AP writers worldwide contributed to this report.

___

Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Colleen Long, Gene Johnson And Mike Corder, The Associated Press

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