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U.S. spending, virus cases after reopenings cloud outlook

WASHINGTON (AP) — With new U.S. economic numbers highlighting the rough road ahead for a hoped-for rebound, President Donald Trump on Friday took aim at the World Health Organization and China, blaming both for their roles in the pandemic's devastation.

Trump announced that the United States will end support for WHO, charging it didn't respond adequately to the health crisis because of China's “total control” over the global organization. Trump said Chinese officials “ignored” their reporting obligations to the WHO and pressured the agency to mislead the world when the virus was first discovered.

Earlier Friday, U.S. Commerce Department statistics showed a record-shattering 13.6% drop in spending in April, a day after a federal jobs report showed another 2 million-plus Americans went out of work last week. The depth of the spending drop is particularly damaging because consumer spending is the primary driver of the economy.

The bad economic news was echoed in Europe, where an extensive social welfare net was showing signs of fraying, as protests erupted for a second day in Spain against layoffs by French carmaker Renault and Italy’s chief central banker warned that “uncertainty is rife.”

While some U.S. states were moving ahead with steps to reopen businesses and leisure activities needed to spur spending and restore jobs, some were finding relaxed safety measures have been followed by upticks in new cases.

Arkansas over the past week has seen a steady rise in its active coronavirus cases, following moves by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to reopen businesses shuttered during the pandemic. Health officials on Thursday announced the number of cases, excluding people who have recovered or died, hit a new high of 1,830 in the state. which has had a total of 6,538 cases. Arkansas also hit a record for a one-day increase in infections in the community, meaning ones that don’t include the incarcerated.

“We’re not going to go back, but we want people to follow those guidelines, make sure they do everything they can to avoid the spread and we can get through this,” Hutchinson said. However, a rural northern California county decided to temporarily rescind its order allowing reopening of restaurants, shopping and other services after its first coronavirus cases developed.

Lassen County had no reported coronavirus cases until May 22, when state data showed it was one of only two California counties with zero cases. But as of Wednesday, the county of 30,000 people had reported five known cases. Lassen County had started reopening businesses under state rules on May 11.

New York City, meanwhile, was on track to begin reopening June 8 as the state gradually loosens restrictions put in place during the coronavirus crisis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday. The nation’s worst pandemic hot spot was meeting goals set for hospital rates and testing, will “stockpile” personal protective equipment like masks, and will focus on infection rates in hot spots by ZIP code, he said. He made the remarks as a large swath of upstate New York got the go-ahead Friday to reopen hair salons, retail shops and offices under strict guidelines. New York City remains the only region of the state that hasn't started economic reopening.

Meanwhile, a federal public health study released Friday shed more light on the deadly contagion's beginnings in the United States. The most comprehensive federal study to date concluded that the spark that started the U.S. coronavirus epidemic arrived during a three-week window from mid-January to early February, before the nation halted travel from China.

Some people have claimed Americans were getting sick from the coronavirus as early as November and that infections were spreading in the U.S. before any case was identified, said Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Redfield said the study “puts data into the discussion.”

The U.S. Commerce Department figures showed that consumers are unable or reluctant to spend, even as incomes soared 10.5% in April, reflecting billions of dollars in government payments in the form of unemployment aid and stimulus checks.

However, wages and salaries — normally the key component of overall income — sank by an annualized $740 billion in April. By contrast, income in the form of government support jumped by an annualized $3 trillion. That form of income will likely fade in coming months as government aid programs expire.

Until Friday's spending report for April, a revised 6.9% decline in March had been the record for the steepest one-month fall in records dating to 1959. Debate in Congress over whether to extend $600 a week in federally provided benefits to the unemployed looked sure to intensify, with the number of people receiving the aid now topping 30 million — one in five workers. The money, included in a government relief package enacted in March, is set to expire July 31.

The latest job-loss figures, released Thursday by the U.S. Labor Department, brought to 41 million the running total of Americans who have filed for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus shutdowns took hold in mid-March.

Adam DuPaul, owner of City Barber Shop in Keene, New Hampshire, said he applied for unemployment benefits as soon as the state expanded eligibility to include self-employed workers in mid-March, but still hasn't “gotten a dime.”

Though hair salons and barber shops were allowed to reopen earlier this month, he wanted to wait due to safety concerns, but he's feeling he has no choice now. “I truly feel like I’m forced to open this coming Monday,” DePaul said. “I really want to get back to what I love, but I don’t want to feel unsafe doing it.”

Elsewhere, New Zealand said it has all but eradicated the coronavirus with just one person in the nation of 5 million known to be infected. But developments were grim in other nations, with India reporting a record increase in cases, and Pakistan and Russia a record number of deaths.

In the first major increase since it started gradually reopening on May 11, France reported more than 3,000 new daily virus infections. It was not immediately clear if the spike was due to a greater availability of testing.

Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 5.8 million people and killed about 360,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The true dimensions of the disaster are widely believed to be significantly greater, with experts saying many victims died without ever being tested.

Sewell reported from Cincinnati. Associated Press writer Holly Ramer contributed from Concord, New Hampshire, with Associated Press reporters from around the world also contributing.

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