The Senate approved a measure to provide paid sick leave, free testing and other benefits.
The Senate overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to approve the coronavirus relief package approved by the House last week, which would provide paid leave, enhanced unemployment benefits, free coronavirus testing and food and health care aid.
The package passed by a vote of 90 to 8 after the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, a Republican of Kentucky, urged conservatives who disapproved of it to “gag and vote for it anyway.”
“This is a time for urgent bipartisan action, and in this case, I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, adding that he would vote for the legislation.
Even as they moved to approve a bill from last week — which was originally passed before the scope of the crisis was clear — the White House was working on a bigger relief plan. It will ask Congress to allocate $500 billion for two separate waves of direct payments to American taxpayers in the coming weeks and another $300 billion to help small businesses continue to meet payroll, according to a Treasury Department proposal circulating on Capitol Hill and among lobbyists.
The outline, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, calls for a total of $1 trillion in spending for those programs, which would also include $50 billion for secured loans for the airline industry, and another $150 billion for secured loans or loan guarantees for other parts of the economy hard hit by the unfolding financial crisis.
It would allow for the use of the Exchange Stabilization Fund, an emergency reserve account that is usually used for intervening in currency markets, to cover those costs, and also temporarily allow it to guarantee money market mutual funds. Lawmakers were moving swiftly on Wednesday to try to incorporate the proposal and others from senators into legislation that could be put up for a vote in the coming days. But the details remained far from complete.
The Treasury Department proposal calls for the authority to send two $250 billion rounds of checks directly to American taxpayers, the first on April 6 and the second May 18. Payments would be fixed, and their size dependent on income and family size, the summary said.
The proposed program to increase loans to small businesses would allow any employer with 500 employees or fewer to receive loans equaling six weeks of their payroll up to $1,540 per employee under the condition that companies must keep paying their employees for eight weeks after receiving the loan.
Mr. Mnuchin broadly outlined the White House’s proposal to Republican senators on Wednesday, but the document shared with congressional offices and others added significant new detail, some of which is likely to be revised by Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Trump invokes the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of vital equipment.
President Trump moved Wednesday to send military hospital ships to areas hard-hit by the coronavirus and to invoke a law allowing the federal government to order American industry to produce critically-needed medical equipment, like ventilators, respirators and other protective gear for health care workers.
The actions follow the Trump administration’s slow initial response to the global crisis that left the United States facing shortages of tests, hospital beds and equipment. At a White House briefing, the president said that he would invoke the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law that authorizes presidents to take extraordinary action to force American industry to ramp up production of equipment needed for national security “just in case we need it.”
The briefing came as stocks plunged again, triggering another automatic 15-minute halt in trading after the S & P fell about 7 percent. Ford Motor and General Motors said that they would temporarily close their plants in the United States. And the Trump administration is pushing for a broader $1 trillion stimulus bill, half of which would go toward two rounds of direct payments to Americans in April and May, according to a summary obtained by The New York Times.
The president said he had dispatched two military hospitals ships to help with the crisis — one to New York, the other to the West Coast — but officials later said it would be weeks before the New York-bound one would arrive.
A federal plan to combat the coronavirus, which was shared with The New York Times, warned that shortages of medical supplies like protective gear and pharmaceuticals could occur, “impacting health care, emergency services, and other elements of critical infrastructure.” Hospitals around the country are warning of critical shortages of supplies.
Members of Congress have been calling for the president to invoke the act for weeks, but some business leaders have argued against it, saying that factories already stand ready to help the government, and that the move could impose red tape on companies precisely when they need flexibility to respond dramatically and quickly to production challenges.
The president also said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been activated at the highest level, which activates broader staffing and emergency support, and that he had directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development to put a temporary moratorium on evictions as the outbreak upends the economy.
Vice President Mike Pence said that tests are increasing “by the thousands” every day and reiterated the administration’s stance that “people without symptoms should not get tested.” Other officials urged Americans to “seriously consider” delaying elective procedures and encouraged younger people to heed the government’s guidelines to avoid large groups of people.
Mr. Trump also confirmed on Wednesday that his administration will use legal authority granted to the U.S. surgeon general to immediately return migrants who cross the southwest border illegally without giving them due process. The rule is likely to be met with legal challenges.
The president continued to refer to the novel coronavirus as “the Chinese virus,” and brushed aside criticisms that the term was racist, or could fuel bias attacks against Asian-Americans. “It’s not racist at all,” he insisted.
Stocks drop and oil crashes as investor alarm persists.
Financial markets reeled again on Wednesday, as the coronavirus continued its relentless spread, governments ramped up efforts to contain it and investors continued to wait for lawmakers in Washington to take action on proposals to bolster the American economy.
The selling on Wednesday reflected another extreme swing in sentiment on Wall Street. Stocks jumped on Tuesday as the White House called for urgent action to pump $1 trillion into the economy. Stocks did recoup some losses late in the day, as the Senate approved approve a bill to provide sick leave, jobless benefits, free coronavirus testing and other aid. Mr. Trump is expected to sign it.
But when all was said and done, the S&P 500 fell about 5 percent, stocks in Europe were sharply lower and oil prices cratered.
The renewed selling showed how fragile any gains have become as long as the virus continues to spread and the number of cases continues to grow at a staggering rate.
The turmoil on Wednesday was evident in other markets as well. The British pound fell to its lowest level in 35 years against the American dollar.
The American oil benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, dropped 24 percent to just over $21 a barrel, the lowest price since 2003. The global Brent benchmark fell to just above $25 a barrel, a level just below January 2016. Oil prices are more than 60 percent below where they were at the beginning of the year.
The American economy is poised for the worst quarterly contraction ever, with a sudden slowdown in economic activity that is more akin to what happened in wartime Europe than during previous American slowdowns like the financial crisis more than a decade ago or even the Great Depression.
Health care workers who reported for duty while sick contributed to spread in Seattle, a C.D.C. report finds.
Health care employees who worked while sick and who had jobs in multiple locations contributed to the spread of the coronavirus in nursing homes and assisted living centers in the Seattle area, which is experiencing the deadliest outbreak of the virus in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report released on Wednesday.
The findings put stark figures to the panic and devastation being felt within the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., which has become a symbol for the toll the virus can take on vulnerable patients trapped in the same environment. Dozens of residents, staff members and visitors have been sickened by the virus, and at least 30 deaths have been tied to the center since last month.
Of the nursing home residents there who got the virus, more than 50 percent had to be hospitalized, and about 27 percent had died as of March 9, the report found. The virus spread to a variety of employees: nurses, doctors, even physical therapists and environmental care workers. No staff members have died.
At least eight other facilities in the Seattle area have also reported cases of the virus, the report said.
In addition to any inadvertent transmission by staff members who were working hard to care for many patients, including at other facilities, the effort to contain the virus was also hampered by delayed recognition of the disease, inadequate supplies of protective equipment and hand sanitizer and limited testing ability, the report found.
Officials urged other nursing home facilities to learn from what happened in Washington State. Among their recommendations: Turn away health care workers who are symptomatic and restrict nursing home visitation while the virus spreads in the United States.
“Once COVID-19 has been introduced into a long-term care facility, it has the potential to result in high attack rates,” the report warned.
“Substantial morbidity and mortality might be averted,” officials added, “if all long-term care facilities take steps now.”
Millions are under “shelter-in-place” orders in California.
Nearly nine million people in Northern California were under orders to “shelter in place” or stay home as much as possible on Wednesday, an ambitious and restrictive effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The directives — which still allow people to leave the house for fresh air — left nearly all residents in the Bay Area holed up at home, and residents in the Sacramento nearby were urged to do the same.
The 8.6 million residents of New York City could potentially face the same restrictions later this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said. “I don’t take this lightly at all,” he said.
The virus on Wednesday continued to touch on all aspects of American life, from transportation to immigration.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez of Puerto Rico asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to suspend international and domestic travel to the island for two weeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Across the United States, naturalization ceremonies, asylum interviews, and other visa processing were paused on Wednesday until at least April 1. And President Trump announced that the border with Canada was being closed to all but essential traffic.
Even natural disasters, like a 5.7 magnitude earthquake in Utah that interrupted the state’s coronavirus hotline, and water main breaks, which left residents unable to wash their hands in Georgia, were made worse by the ongoing pandemic.
The virus disrupts the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan.
There are roughly 12,000 American troops in Afghanistan. Under the agreement signed by the Taliban and American diplomats last month, that number is set to decrease to 8,600 within the next 100 or so days. NATO and coalition forces, with roughly 8,700 troops in the country, were set to draw down a commensurate amount.
Immigration services shut down, but enforcement operations are still underway.
Immigration services are beginning to shut down around the country, though some enforcement operations are still underway, as cities and states tighten restrictions on movement to slow the spread of the virus.
Naturalization ceremonies, asylum interviews, and other visa processing were paused on Wednesday until at least April 1. Many immigration court hearings have also been put on hold, following a chaotic period last week when some immigration judges were asking people to wait in crammed holding rooms.
Yet immigration enforcement operations were continuing. On Wednesday, a line of at least 60 people wrapped around an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Miramar, Fla., in a county that has seen Florida’s highest number of Covid-19 cases.
An ICE spokesman said that immigration arrests were continuing. The agency was “prioritizing individuals who threaten our national security and public safety,” he said.
America’s hospitals are dangerously low on ventilators.
As the United States braces for an onslaught of coronavirus cases, hospitals and governments are confronting a grim reality: There are not nearly enough lifesaving ventilator machines to go around, and there is no way to solve the problem before the disease reaches full throttle.
Desperate hospitals say they can find nowhere to buy the medical devices, which help patients breathe and can be the difference between life and death for those facing the most dire respiratory effects of the coronavirus.
American and European manufacturers say they cannot speed up production enough to meet soaring demand, at least not anytime soon.
The United States has been slow to develop a national strategy for accelerating the production of ventilators. That appears to reflect in part the federal government’s sluggish reaction to the coronavirus, with President Trump and others initially playing down the threat. This week, Mr. Trump urged governors to find ways to procure new ventilators. “Try getting it yourselves,” he said.
That will be hard and in some cases impossible.
“The reality is there is absolutely not enough,” said Andreas Wieland, the chief executive of Hamilton Medical in Switzerland, one of the world’s largest makers of ventilators. “We see that in Italy, we saw that in China, we see it in France and other countries. We could sell I don’t know how many.”
At least 100 deaths in the United States have now been linked to the coronavirus, according to a New York Times database that is tracking and mapping every known case in the country as more people are tested. On Tuesday evening, West Virginia became the 50th state to report an infection.
The 101 deaths, all announced in the last three weeks, came as the number of known coronavirus cases in the United States soared past 5,600 on Tuesday. Hundreds more are learning they have the illness each day, including more than 800 diagnoses on both Monday and Tuesday, as the nation’s testing capacity has grown significantly and as the virus spreads.
About half the country’s reported deaths have been in Washington State, including at least 30 linked to a long-term care facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland. Most of those who have died from the virus have been in their 60s or older, and several have been in their 90s. But other patients who died have been younger, including a corrections worker in New York City in his 50s and a man from the Seattle area in his 40s.
Belgium goes on total lockdown, and European officials warn against flouting rules.
Belgium joined the list of European nations to impose strict restrictions on Wednesday, effective at noon, as the virus rampaged across the continent.
The president of the German center for disease control and prevention, Prof. Lothar H. Wieler, warned that if people did not follow public health guidance, Germany could have 10 million cases in just a few months.
“The epidemic is taking an exponential course,” he told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday.
There are 8,200 cases in Germany, a rise of 1,000 in the last 24 hours.
In France, the military started operations to evacuate patients from the hard-hit eastern part the country. An air force transport plane left from southern France on Wednesday to evacuate six Covid-19 patients to military hospitals in Marseille and Toulon. A military field hospital is also expected to be deployed near Mulhouse.
The French health minister, Olivier Véran, announced on Wednesday that the authorities would shut down open-air markets where people were not complying with distancing guidelines, even though grocery stores and other food purveyors were not affected by the lockdown.
“Wherever it is impossible to enforce the distance of one meter between two people, we must intervene,” Mr. Véran said.
In Belgium, people are allowed to go outside to walk, bike or exercise, but those activities must be done alone or with the people with whom they live. The new rules are similar to those instituted in France, but they are not as strict as those in Italy, where the death toll has climbed to more than 2,500. Nor are Belgians required, as they are in France and Italy, to download and complete “permission forms” to carry with them offering an explanation for why they are not in their homes.
Governments were also scrambling to put together economic relief plans. Germany has promised $600 billion to help businesses and individuals. British leaders said they would throw more than $420 billion at the crisis. The European Union promised hundreds of billions to support member states. Leaders in France, Spain, Italy and dozens of other nations have pledged to spend whatever is needed to meet the moment.
Europe resurrects borders, and chaos follows.
Hastily reintroduced border checkpoints have prompted chaos across Europe as nations step up entry restrictions and limit movement.
The European Union announced a decision on Tuesday to implement a 30-day restriction on nonessential travel to its territory, and at least 12 countries have re-erected border checkpoints, stemming the flow of people and goods.
Romanian and Bulgarian citizens trying to return home from Austria via Hungary were denied entry to Hungary on Tuesday, a day after Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced that his country would close its borders to non-Hungarians.
Some travelers staged a protest on the highway, causing a traffic jam stretching some 13 miles. The authorities later announced that they would allow a one-time passage of Romanians and Bulgarians through Hungary through a “humanitarian corridor.”
Poland, which suspended all international air and rail travel and barred entry on Sunday to everyone except Polish citizens and legal residents, was also scrambling to manage the chaos.
Thousands of travelers on Wednesday were stuck in lines stretching dozens of miles near entry points to Poland, with many forced to wait up to 30 hours without access to food or water. According to officials, the waiting time for thousands of truckers, especially on the Poland-Belarus border, could be even longer, delaying the transport of goods into Poland.
Responding to the crisis, the Polish Ministry of the Interior said on Tuesday night that more checkpoints would be opened and that about 1,000 soldiers would be dispatched to help maintain peace at the borders.
The regulations around social distancing have forced many friends and family to change the way they communicate and spend time together. It is important to stay connected during these stressful times. Here are some ideas that may help:
Pakistan, its health care system already teetering, braces for the virus.
In Pakistan, around 246 people have tested positive for the coronavirus Many public health experts say they are worried that the true numbers are much higher; the country is at the center of one of the most densely populated regions in the world, South Asia, which has some 1.8 billion people and porous borders.
As the outbreak hit neighboring Iran, thousands of Pakistanis tried to return home. Some 4,600 were quarantined at Taftan, Pakistan, a town on the border. They spent 14 days in tents, with little running water and barely working toilets.
Many of those who were released from quarantine returned home and tested positive. In Sindh Province, the number of infected jumped from 35 to 150 on Sunday, after dozens of people who underwent quarantine in Taftan were confirmed as having contracted the illness.
Many in Pakistan say they are having trouble getting tested. So far, around eight people per million have been tested in the country, compared to about 1,000 per million in Italy.
In a televised address on Tuesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan warned that hospitals were too weak to accept an influx of people seeking testing and asked only the very ill to get screened.
He urged social distancing but said that the nation’s economy was too weak to handle a complete shutdown.
The Taliban, which control large parts of Afghanistan, have started requiring Afghans traveling from Iran, where the coronavirus is running rampant, to prove that they have been screened before being allowed to return to their homes in areas controlled by the insurgent group.
Proof of screening is being provided by the Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in Kabul, a medical center in the capital that is operated by the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers illegitimate.
Thousands of Afghans return daily from Iran via Herat, a city in western Afghanistan, then take buses or taxis to Kabul.
“Such action is necessary because you know this virus is spreading to several provinces,” a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said in a phone interview about the screening requirement.
Mr. Mujahid said Afghans who had returned from Iran “should have their medical examinations so that we are certain they don’t infect others.”
The Afghan Health Ministry has reported 22 cases of coronavirus. But health officials worry there may be many more infection’s because so few people have been tested.
Reporting was contributed by Michael Cooper, Sarah Mervosh, Caitlin Dickerson, Miriam Jordan, Steven Erlanger, Katie Rogers, Ana Swanson, Emily Cochrane, Caitlin Dickerson, Elisabetta Povoledo, Maria Abi-Habib, Zia ur-Rehman, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Neal Boudette, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Heather Murphy, Damien Cave, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Ben Casselman, Sapna Maheshwari, David Yaffe-Bellany, Mark Landler, Stephen Castle, Ian Austen, Sarah Kliff, Adam Satariano, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Nicholas Kulish, Nicholas Fandos, Katie Rogers, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Julian E. Barnes, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Michael D. Shear, Mikayla Bouchard and Farnaz Fassihi.