As U.S. Debates Stimulus, European Governments Take 'Unprecedented' Steps To Save Jobs

From cash handouts to rent freezes to "economic patriotism," here’s how countries are responding to the coronavirus.

As U.S. lawmakers continue to debate a nearly $2 trillion economic relief package in response to the coronavirus pandemic, governments around the world have taken dramatic steps to try to protect incomes and stave off job losses for millions of people.

These actions come as the International Monetary Fund warned Monday evening that the global economic outlook could be worse than in 2008. “We will face recession at least as bad as during the global financial crisis or worse, but we expect recovery in 2021. Countries should undertake more bold fiscal actions,” said Kristalina Georgieva, the IMF’s managing director.

In the United Kingdom, the government announced that it would pay 80% of wages for employees who cannot work due to the pandemic ― up to 2,500 British pounds a month ― to help employers keep them on instead of laying them off. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak called the economic intervention “unprecedented in the history of the British state.”

However, the U.K.’s 5 million self-employed workers are largely left out of the stimulus package — creating a situation in which many may be incentivized to continue working while ill, potentially hampering efforts to control the spread of the virus.

The government also announced a three-month moratorium on mortgage payments and banned landlords from evicting tenants during the crisis. “The government is clear ― no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home,” said Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a near-total lockdown of the country, ordering all nonessential shops to close and residents to stay in their homes except in limited circumstances.

Other European governments have taken similarly aggressive actions. In Sweden, workers will continue to receive 90% of their pay while working reduced hours. In Denmark, the government is stepping in to cover between 75% and 90% of workers’ salaries for three months.

“These are measures that have never been seen before. It is extraordinary,” Danish Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen said. “We are not talking about loans. These are cash hand-outs.”

Italy and Spain have also suspended mortgage payments as part of their economic stimulus packages, and the Spanish government plans to approve support for renters as well.

“We are at war,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said this week. He called on Europe to launch a massive, coordinated public investment program similar to the Marshall Plan that helped to rebuild Europe following World War II.

In France on Tuesday, economic minister Bruno Le Maire called for the French people to embrace “economic patriotism” to support the agricultural sector during the coronavirus crisis. “I am calling on large distributors to make a new effort: Stock up on French products,” he said the day after the French government announced new restrictions, including the closure of food markets.

On Monday, Didier Guillaume, the French agriculture minister, asked workers who found themselves unemployed due to the pandemic to go into the fields and join “the great army of French agriculture” to ensure that there would be no food shortages. “We must produce [enough] to feed the French people,” he said.

The U.S. Federal Reserve announced this week that it would do, essentially, whatever it takes to protect the economy, including providing unprecedented, direct support to both small businesses and large corporations.

“Aggressive efforts must be taken across the public and private sectors to limit the losses to jobs and incomes and to promote a swift recovery once the disruptions abate,” the central bank said in a statement.

With reporting from HuffPost U.K., HuffPost Spain, HuffPost France, HuffPost Italy, AP and Reuters.

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