H.J. Mai

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U.S. airlines are boosting their flight schedules in preparation for the summer after experiencing an increase in customer demand, but returning to 2019 travel numbers will take years, according to an airline executive.

The coronavirus pandemic has completely disrupted the industry, with near empty flights and parked aircraft the most visible signs of trouble. However, the push to reopen the country has provided U.S. carriers with a glimmer of hope.

Sweden's controversial approach to fighting the coronavirus pandemic has so far failed to produce the expected results, and there are calls within the country for the government to change its strategy.

"We have a very vivid political debate," Karin Olofsdotter, Sweden's ambassador to the United States, told NPR. "I don't think people are protesting on the streets but ... there's a very big debate, if this [strategy] is the right thing to do or not, on Facebook and everywhere."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has floated the idea of a four-day workweek to encourage domestic travel in the wake of the country's coronavirus lockdown.

Ardern raised the potential of a shortened workweek and more flexibility around leave in the workplace after meeting with local officials and tourism operators in the North Island-city of Rotorua.

The European Union's attempt to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the bloc's diplomatic relationship with China fell flat after an opinion piece co-authored by the EU's 27 ambassadors ran afoul of Beijing's censors.

The piece published in Wednesday's China Daily was notably different from the one posted on the EU embassy's website. The version on the website included a sentence that made reference to the origins of the coronavirus outbreak, which is believed to have started in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

The U.N.'s humanitarian chief has warned that without global cooperation and financial assistance, the number of people dying from hunger or hunger-related diseases could double this year due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The effect of that is going to be, for the first time in probably in 30 years, a big increase in the number of people in extreme poverty, people living on less than $2 a day," said Mark Lowcock, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Sweden's ambassador to the U.S. believes the country's controversial strategy of imposing only limited restrictions — and not locking down the country — is bearing success, with the capital, Stockholm, on course to reach herd immunity in the next few weeks.

"About 30% of people in Stockholm have reached a level of immunity," Karin Ulrika Olofsdotter told NPR. "We could reach herd immunity in the capital as early as next month."

Divisions among European nations over the structure of an economic recovery program continue after European Union leaders again failed to reach an agreement. But the group endorsed the recent recommendation of EU finance ministers for a short-term rescue package worth more than a half-trillion dollars.

The 27 EU leaders met via video conference on Thursday to discuss several proposals intended to stabilize the bloc's economy and support the domestic economies of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet another famous event has fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, German officials announced that this year's Oktoberfest has been canceled.

The annual event in the Bavarian capital of Munich is the world's largest beer and folk festival, attracting more than 6 million visitors each year.

But public safety concerns over the coronavirus pandemic outweigh the benefits of hosting this year's festival, local and state officials said. It was scheduled to take place from Sept. 19 through Oct. 4.

After all-night talks, European finance ministers from the 19 countries that use the euro failed to agree on a program to support the European Union's coronavirus-stricken economies.