President seeks $850 billion stimulus, could include checks to Americans

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The White House is proposing a roughly $850 billion emergency stimulus to address the economic cost of the new coronavirus

The White House hopes the measure will pass this week, as the administration scrambles to contain the economic fallout of the severe disruptions to American life from the outbreak.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened the Senate on Tuesday with a promise for swift action. He says the Senate won’t adjourn until it acts.

The President wants the government to send checks to Americans in an effort to curb the economic cost of the coronavirus outbreak, according to his treasury secretary.

“The president has instructed me we have to do this now,” said Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday at a White House briefing.

He didn’t give details except to say the amount should be significant and millionaires would not get it.

Mnuchin says Trump wants the money sent to the public within two weeks. But the president has to deal with skepticism in Congress over the broad economic rescue package for businesses and taxpayers.

The amount of the proposed checks hasn’t been disclosed, but Mnuchin says it’s vital to get significant cash out to people quickly.

The White House has asked Congress to approve a massive economic rescue package.

It will aim to provide relief for small businesses and the airline industry and propose a massive tax cut for wage-earners.

The U.S. has implemented dramatic new restrictions on Americans going out in public. People are advised not to gather in groups of more than 10, and discretionary travel and social visits should be avoided.

President Donald Trump is urging all older Americans to stay home and everyone to avoid crowds and eating out at restaurants for at least the next few weeks as officials forecast a surge in the coronavirus outbreak.

For the first time the president acknowledged that the pandemic may send the economy into a recession and went on to suggest that Americans may be dealing with the virus until “July or August.”

After weeks of trying to play down the risk posed by the coronavirus, Trump struck a more urgent tone. He delivered a sobering message Monday to Americans still grappling with the reality that their lives will be changing dramatically.

The shift was informed in part by a growing realization in the West Wing that the coronavirus crisis is an existential threat to Trump’s presidency, his reelection and his legacy. But on Tuesday, Trump again lashed out at his critics, directing his ire at Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after she criticized him for telling governors not to rely too much on the federal government.

Daily life in much of California ground to a screeching halt as officials announced the strictest measures in America, so far, in a desperate attempt to contain the spread of coronavirus.

On Monday, seven counties in the San Francisco Bay Area ordered residents to “shelter in place” and only leave their homes for essential activities that include buying food or medicine, seeing a doctor or caring for a family member.

The order affects nearly seven million people.

It was the latest in a series of dramatic steps taken in California to separate people and contain the disease: most schools are closed and all people over the age of 65 have been told to stay home.

Three other states, Arizona, Florida and Illinois, are moving ahead with their elections on Tuesday, despite the coronavirus. Officials felt they had done enough to ensure the safety of voters, even though there may be too few poll workers and some poll locations have changed.

By contrast, Ohio called off Tuesday’s election just hours before polls were set to open.

Congressional lawmakers and administration officials are pushing for a massive economic lifeline to keep American households and businesses afloat in spite of the weight of the new coronavirus.

Democrats say at least $750 billion will be needed. Top White House officials briefing Senate Republicans at the Capitol say a similar-sized package needs to pass, some suggesting in a matter of days.

The rush to inject cash and resources into the economy is an effort unlike any since the 2008 economic crisis. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to meet Tuesday with Senate Republicans to launch the effort.

At least 87 people have died from the coronavirus in the U.S., the majority in Washington state, CNN reports. The number of confirmed cases has surpassed 4,400.

Britain’s dramatic escalation of social restrictions to fight COVID-19 was sparked by new scientific evidence suggesting that 250,000 people in the U.K. and more than 1 million in the U.S. might die if the country did not suppress the spread of the new coronavirus.

Imperial College London epidemiologists advising the U.K. government have published an analysis drawing on data from Italy, the hardest-hit European country with nearly 28,000 cases and 2,158 deaths.

They found that a strategy of “mitigation” — slowing but not stopping the spread of the virus while protecting vulnerable groups like the elderly — would still lead to a huge number of cases that would overwhelm the health care system.

The scientists said “even if all patients were able to be treated, we predict there would still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in (Britain), and 1.1-1.2 million in the U.S.”

They said a tougher “suppression” strategy would sharply reduce deaths but would “need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more).”

The number of deaths in Spain due to the new coronavirus has jumped from 309 to 491 in 24 hours and new infections have risen to 11,178, nearly 2,000 more than a day earlier.

The numbers were reported Tuesday by the nation’s health emergency center director, Fernando Simón. With a population of 46 million, Spain became on Monday the fourth country in the world with most coronavirus cases, surpassing South Korea and edging closer to Iran.

Spanish police started enforcing land border checks Tuesday after the country, already under strict lock-down measures, banned people from entering or exiting the country in an attempt to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

The battle to contain the coronavirus reached new urgency, as more governments locked down borders and ordered new closures and restrictions. But a shift in the battle lines was made clear by tallies showing infections outside China have surpassed those inside it.

On Tuesday, just one new case was confirmed in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the illness was first detected in late December. Officials said they believed the country was over the worst of the crisis.

Another 20 cases were recorded around the country, including nine in Beijing. All were reported among people who arrived from overseas.

Beijing has required all arrivals to undergo 14 days of quarantine but has not closed its borders. Other Chinese cities have adopted similar measures, even as authorities work to restart industries that are key to global supply chains.

With foreign universities closing classes, thousands of Chinese studying overseas are seeking to return home, shifting the focus from domestic containment to preventing infected people from bringing the virus back with them.

A South Korean province surrounding Seoul has threatened to shut down nearly 140 churches that have failed to implement preventive measures amid a spread of the coronavirus in the country’s most populous metropolitan region.

Gyeonggi Province said Tuesday that it has issued an administrative order for the churches to list the names of attendants, screen them for fever and ensure that they wear masks and are at least 2 meters apart during services until March 29.

The province can close the churches and fine them as much as $2,400 if they fail to abide by the order.

More than 70 of the province’s COVID-19 cases have been connected to gatherings at Protestant churches. Forty-six of the infections have come from a small church in the city of Seongnam, where officials possibly worsened infections by using the same spray bottle to inject saltwater into the mouths of followers in an ill-advised effort to disinfect them.

South Korea has confirmed 84 new cases of the virus and six more deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing its total numbers to 8,320 infections and 81 fatalities.

The country has also further postponed the beginning of the new school year by two weeks to protect students from the spread of the coronavirus.

Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye said Tuesday that kindergartens as well as elementary, middle and high schools nationwide would now reopen on April 6, which is five weeks later than usual. It was the third time the country delayed the start of new school terms amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Iran’s state television has issued its most drastic warning so far about the new coronavirus, saying the outbreak could kill “millions” in the Islamic Republic if the public keeps traveling and ignoring health guidance.

The warning came in a bulletin broadcast on Tuesday afternoon.
Roughly nine out of 10 of the over 18,000 cases of the new virus confirmed across the Middle East come from Iran, where authorities denied for days the risk the outbreak posed.

That’s even as the death toll in Iran saw another 13% increase.

Health Ministry spokesman said the virus had killed 135 more people to raise the total to 988 amid over 16,000 cases.

Fears remain that Iran may be underreporting its cases.

Days of denials gave the virus time to spread as the country marked the 41st anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution with mass demonstrations.

Iran also held a parliamentary election in which authorities desperately sought to boost turnout.

Although Iran has one of the Mideast’s best medical services, its hospitals appear to be overwhelmed.

Now, officials worry the Iranian New Year, which starts Friday, could see the virus spread even further.

Hard-line Shiite faithful in Iran have pushed their way into the courtyards of shrines just closed over fears of the new coronavirus.

Police ultimately cleared the demonstrators in the cities of Qom and Mashhad, but the incidents show the anger and the willingness to ignore safety recommendations.

Authorities have now implemented new checks for people trying to leave major cities ahead of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on Friday, but have hesitated to quarantine the areas.

European Union leaders are meeting to try to forge a united front against the coronavirus as the case count multiplies across the 27-nation bloc.

The challenge at Tuesday’s video-conference, their second in two weeks, is to halt the arrival of more virus cases, coordinate any border closures and guarantee that vital goods can reach people in need. They are expected to endorse a 30-day ban on travel and non-essential business visits to the EU.

It’s likely the leaders will also agree to set up fast lanes at internal European borders to smooth the passage of medical equipment and food. But the tendency for some countries to go it alone with quick-fix measures is undermining unity.