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Coronavirus forces industries across US to let employees work from home | Business


The coronavirus pandemic swept across US business on Friday as industries from automotive to tech and leisure moved to contain the growing threat.

Ford and General Motors announced that beginning Monday employees who can work from home should do so. The guidelines apply globally but exclude factory workers and those who must physically be present to do their duties. Ford employs 190,000 people globally while GM employs about 168,000 people.

In a memo sent to employees, GM’s chief executive, Mary Barra, said: “These are important steps to lower the probability of spreading the coronavirus to coworkers, families and communities and to relieve the burden on public resources.”

Telecoms giant AT&T has also told its 245,000 staff to work from home where possible.

Wall Street banks including JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have already instructed New York City employees to work from home as the number of cases in the state rises.

No sector of the economy is unaffected. Hollywood has postponed the release of films including Disney’s new Mulan and the latest James Bond. The lights of Broadway are off, Disney is closing parks in the US and France, and sports events including the Masters golf tournament are on hold.

Airlines are cutting flights and freezing hiring. Carnival Cruises has announced it will suspend global operations at its Princess Cruises subsidiary for two months.

Across Silicon Valley workers have been instructed to stay home as Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Twitter and others have moved to minimize the spread of the virus.

The long-term economic impact of the shuttering of America will take weeks if not longer to assess. Michael Pearce, senior US economist at CapitalEconomics, said the escalating response to the crisis from the US government, closing schools, banning large gatherings, will take a “sharp toll on the economy”.

Capital Economics has cut its US growth forecast for 2020 to just 0.6%, down from 1.8%.

Next week the Federal Reserve holds its first meeting since the World Health Organization officially declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic. The Fed chair, Jerome Powell, is expected to cut interest rates and will provide an update on the overall health of the US economy.

Next week is also when the Bureau of Labor Statistics will collect its sample for the next monthly jobs report. Jobs growth has been on a record-breaking streak in the US since the end of the last recession.

Last month the US added another 273,000 jobs. This month’s report, due 3 April, will give some indication of the likely impact of the closures on employment.

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