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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Gig economy companies have largely dodged the costs of worker benefits and protections — but now, amid the coronavirus crisis, find themselves struggling to keep both customers and workers on board.

What’s happening: They're juggling mismatched supply and demand, and asked to alleviate everyone's financial strains.

Driving the news: Yesterday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told investors that his firm's ride-hailing business has dropped 60-70% in Seattle so far this year compared with the same period of 2019.

  • Earlier this month, Uber said it will compensate drivers for up to 14 days if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or asked to self-isolate or quarantine — since they don’t have paid time off as independent contractors.
  • Lyft, Instacart, and others are providing similar compensation.

This still leaves a lot of drivers worried and frustrated. They have to keep working to generate income — and fulfill consumer demand — despite the risk of getting infected by passengers.

Other firms are attempting similar balancing acts. Food delivery companies are seeing a surge in demand as people stay home and restaurants are forced to serve takeout only.

  • Drivers face the same health and financial risks.
  • Some companies are waiving certain restaurant fees, though they’re mostly focused on new eatery signups.

The clearest tension between the two sides of the marketplace is playing out at Airbnb: Travelers want refunds for their canceled reservations, but hosts want to keep the money, especially if it’s a significant source of their income.

The bottom line: These companies have spent years claiming that they are simply neutral marketplaces and that their workers and hosts are “entrepreneurs” — but leaving those people with all financial responsibility is backfiring now.

  • The firms are asking the federal government to relieve drivers, restaurants, and hosts’ economic strain.
  • Even if Uncle Sam does step in, the companies are already facing public pressure to help now.

Go deeper

FBI, Homeland Security warn of increasing threat to Capitol

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security predict violent domestic extremists attacks will increase in 2021, according to a report reviewed by Axios.

Driving the news: The joint report says an unidentified group of extremists discussed plans to take control of the Capitol and "remove Democratic lawmakers" on or about March 4. The House canceled its plans for Thursday votes as word of the possible threats spread.

26 mins ago - World

Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).

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