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Airlines crushed; IRS wants checks sent to the dead returned

The outbreak of the coronavirus has dealt a shock to the global economy with unprecedented speed. Following are developments Thursday related to national and global response, the work place and the spread of the virus.

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TRAVEL & LODGING: All aspects of travel, road, rail and air, have been transformed during the pandemic. Many hotels remain vacant.

— JetBlue Airways swung to a $268 million loss in the first quarter. It made a $42 million quarterly profit last year. Revenue slumped 15%. President Joanna Geraghty said bookings remain “extremely limited.” The New York carrier said Thursday that after negotiations with Airbus, it cut $1.1 billion in aircraft expenses through 2022. It’s taking $936 million in federal relief and has applied for another $1.1 billion in loans from the U.S. Treasury.

— Spirit Airlines forecasts that it will fill 50% to 59% of the seats on planes that are still flying this month. That is a huge jump from the 17% occupancy the budget airline reported for April and averages of around 30% for bigger airlines. Spirit officials said Thursday the higher percentage of seats filled is mostly due to 94% cut in flights.

— Add airport screeners to the list of people who must wear facial coverings. The Transportation Security Administration said Thursday that it will require employees to wear facial protection at checkpoints “over the coming days” to boost health and safety at airports.

— Frontier Airlines said it will screen passengers and employees for fever beginning June 1. Fever is a symptom of COVID-19. The airline said Thursday that no one with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) or higher will be allowed on board. Those who fail the test will get a second chance if there is time before departure, Frontier said.

— Air France-KLM suffered a first-quarter loss of 1.8 billion euros, but predicts the second quarter will be far worse, with traffic down 95%.

The airlines, which have already won billions of euros in bailouts from the French and Dutch governments, expect some resumption of summer travel, but numbers will still likely be down 80% in the third quarter.

— About 60% of Hilton hotels worldwide — or around 950 properties — have suspended operations. However, global occupancy levels, which slumped to 13% in March, have reached 23%. Nearly all of the 150 hotels closed in China during the height of the pandemic have reopened, and Hilton says occupancy reached 50% last weekend during the May Day holiday.

HOUSING: The real estate market was still cruising in the spring, but the virus has almost shut down activity in the sector.

— Mortgage credit availability fell in April, as lending standards tightened. It's the second consecutive month in retreat. The Mortgage Credit Availability Index dropped by 12.2% to 133.5 last month, according to a Thursday report from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

— Google is abandoning its smart-city development in Toronto, blaming unprecedented economic uncertainty. A unit of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, had been proposing to turn a rundown part of Toronto’s waterfront into a wired community, but Dan Doctoroff, Sidewalk Labs chief executive, said Thursday that its no longer financially viable.

RELIEF CHECKS: The IRS has updated its guidance, saying that relief payments made to the deceased must be returned to the federal government. Legal experts, however, say there is no law requiring people to do that.

CENTRAL GOVERNMENTS & BANKS: Countries are trying to keep their economies afloat while, at the same time, addressing the needs of millions of the newly unemployed.

— Norway’s central bank is dropping a key interest policy rate to 0% after another 0.25 percentage points cut.

— Indonesia has posted its slowest growth in more than two decades as the coronavirus crisis made its effects felt in exports, investment and consumption in Southeast Asia’s largest economy. Gross domestic product expanded by only 2.97% in January-March, down from a 4.99% expansion last year in the same period.

— Turkey’s currency has dropped to an all-time low against the dollar as the country navigates plunging economic activity. The Turkish lira has lost 18% of its value against the dollar since the beginning of the year.

— The Czech Republic’s central bank has lowered its key interest rate by a three quarter-point to 0.25% to help reduce the impact of the pandemic on the economy.

— Regional governors in Italy are pressing to open more segments of the economy — namely shops and restaurants — just days after the country began easing its two-month lockdown. Governors want to submit their own plans for reopening, tailored to the rate of infection and economic needs of their regions.

MARKETS: — Stocks climbed on Wall Street Thursday as reports suggested that even though the economy is still getting walloped, at least conditions aren’t worsening as quickly as they had been.