Trump vows immigration ban as US protestors demand lockdown end

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U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the daily coronavirus task force briefing between U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir and Vice President Mike Pence at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 20, 2020. /REUTERS

Washington – Donald Trump pledged a temporary ban on immigration to the United States because of the “invisible enemy” of coronavirus, as the disease sparked angry demonstrations on American streets to demand an end to crippling lockdowns.

In just four months, the virus has turned the world upside down, confining half the planet indoors and killing nearly 170,000 on its march through virtually every country.

Drastic measures never before seen in peacetime have shredded the global economy, resulting in the extraordinary spectacle of oil prices turning negative as demand evaporates.

World leaders are agonising over when to loosen restrictions, terrified of a second wave but aware their citizens need to work and live amid growing signs of social tension.

US President Trump, who has encouraged anti-lockdown protests roiling parts of the country, said Monday he would halt immigration — a theme long popular with his supporters.

“In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!” he tweeted.

At least 22 million jobs have been lost in the US since sweeping lockdowns were implemented to slow the spread of the virus, and exasperation is growing in some parts of the country.

Hundreds took part in a “Patriots Rally” in Pennsylvania, one waving a banner proclaiming “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Rose Bayer, 50, said it was “crazy” to shut down the world over a disease she said has a recovery rate of about 98 percent.

“People will starve, they’ll commit suicide, they’ll lose everything over this. The cure — like Trump said — the cure cannot be worse than the disease,” she said.

While such demos have captured much attention, more than four in five Americans would approve of a national stay-at-home order, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.

But isolated protests are also springing up elsewhere from Russia to France, where demonstrators in a run-down northern Paris suburb clashed with police they accuse of enforcing lockdown rules too harshly.

– ‘Like a war situation’ –

In hard-hit Europe, several countries are cautiously creeping out from confinement measures, buoyed by mounting signs the worst of the virus may be behind them.

Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Germany was “still a long way from being out of the woods,” as she allowed smaller shops from florists to fashion stores to reopen.

There were also encouraging signs in other major European countries such as Italy, France and Britain, although authorities warned citizens against letting their guard down.

Ghana became the first African country to lift coronavirus restrictions, sparking a mixed reaction on streets in Accra teeming with citizens after a three-week lockdown.

“It is a huge reprieve. We have a listening government,” hawker Jemima Adwoa Anim told AFP.

“It was like a war situation. We had no money and at the same time couldn’t step out to work to earn some cash,” she added.

But others were furious the restrictions had been lifted so early.

“This is totally ridiculous. How is it possible?” asked 20-year-old student Francis Collison.

– ‘Extraordinary’ trading day –

The coronavirus fallout has sparked fears of a second Great Depression with millions of job losses around the world as economies shudder to a halt.

Another consequence of the economic pandemonium wrought by the virus was an unprecedented day of trading in the oil markets that saw a barrel of US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for May delivery close at -$37.63.

The price turned negative because once the May contract expires on Tuesday, buyers need to take possession of the oil or move it to storage.

But with sharply reduced demand for oil due to the economic slowdown, there is little storage to be found, meaning traders preferred to effectively pay someone to take it off their hands.

Futures prices rebounded back above zero in Asian trade Tuesday after what Trifecta Consultants analyst Sukrit Vijayakar described as “one of the most extraordinary trading days in the history of any commodity.”

However, the oil market movements weighed heavily on US and Asian stocks, with Japan’s Nikkei closing down nearly two percent and European equity markets opening in the red.

The virus has sent the aviation sector into a tailspin with cash-strapped Virgin Australia announcing Tuesday it had entered voluntary administration — the largest airline so far to collapse.

“I am so proud of you and everything we have achieved together,” said British tycoon Richard Branson in support of Virgin Australia, in which he owns a 10-percent stake.

After cutting a swathe through the global sporting schedule, another high-profile annual event fell victim to the coronavirus as authorities in Germany cancelled this year’s Oktoberfest — a beer-swilling festival in southern Bavaria.

(AFP)

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