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Congress gives final approval to $2 trillion relief package, sending it to Trump to sign.
Congress gave final approval on Friday to the largest economic stimulus package in modern American history, a $2 trillion measure designed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and deliver direct payments and jobless benefits for individuals, money for states and a huge bailout fund for businesses battered by the crisis.
The House approved the measure by voice vote, after leaders in both parties deflected an effort by Representative Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican with a penchant for using procedural maneuvers to try to block legislation, to force a recorded vote requiring lawmakers to register their positions individually. It now heads to President Trump’s desk, where he is expected to sign it.
The legislation would send direct payments of $1,200 to millions of Americans, including those earning up to $75,000, and an additional $500 per child. It would substantially expand jobless aid, providing an additional 13 weeks and a four-month enhancement of benefits, and for the first time would extend the payments to freelancers and gig workers.
The measure would also offer $377 billion in federally guaranteed loans to small businesses and establish a $500 billion government lending program for distressed companies reeling from the crisis, including allowing the administration the ability to take equity stakes in airlines that received aid to help compensate taxpayers. It would also send $100 billion to hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic.
House leaders scheduled a voice vote on the measure to reduce the number of lawmakers who would be forced to return to Washington during the pandemic. Mr. Massie sought to block that effort by calling for a recorded vote. But Republican and Democratic leaders called back members from all corners of the country to form a quorum, and they made a show of force in the House chamber, putting down Mr. Massie’s bid to slow the measure’s passage.
Cities overwhelmingly face shortages of masks, ventilators and emergency equipment.
Officials in nearly 200 U.S. cities, large and small, report a dire need for face masks, ventilators and other emergency equipment to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a survey released on Friday.
The United States Conference of Mayors questioned officials in 213 municipalities and found serious shortages that underscored the “scope and severity” of the crisis. The organization, a nonpartisan association of mayors from across the country, urged the federal government to provide more support.
More than 90 percent — or 192 cities — said they did not have an adequate supply of face masks for police officers, firefighters and emergency workers. In addition, 92 percent of cities reported a shortage of test kits and 85 percent did not have a sufficient supply of ventilators available to local health facilities.
Roughly two-thirds of the cities said they had not received any emergency equipment or supplies from their state, the report said. And of those that did receive state aid, nearly 85 percent said it was not enough to meet their needs.
In total, the conference tabulated that cities need 28.5 million face masks, 24.4 million other items of personal protection equipment, 7.9 million test kits and 139,000 ventilators.
The survey included municipalities from 41 states and Puerto Rico, with populations ranging from under 2,000 to 3.8 million. Across the board, local officials said they were not getting the support and supplies they need.
“It is abundantly clear that the shortage of essential items such as face masks, test kits, personal protective equipment, ventilators and other items needed by health and safety personnel has reached crisis proportions in cities across the country,” Tom Cochran, the chief executive of the conference said in a letter accompanying the survey’s findings.
“The result is that the safety of city residents and the health workers and first responders protecting them is being seriously compromised.”
After expressing doubts about the need for more ventilators, Trump pushes industry to make more.
President Trump, who has expressed reluctance in recent days to use the Defense Production Act to mobilize private industry to produce critically-needed ventilators, reversed himself Friday in a series of posts on Twitter.
Mr. Trump lashed out at General Motors on Twitter, blaming it for the failure to begin work on new production of ventilators. He said that the company “MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!” (General Motors sold its Lordstown factory last year.)
The White House had been preparing to unveil a joint venture this week between General Motors and Ventec Life Systems that would allow for the production of as many as 80,000 ventilators, but canceled the announcement, government officials said, because they needed more time to assess whether the estimated cost — more than $1 billion — was prohibitive.
In a series of four tweets, Mr. Trump moved from claiming on Thursday that states were overstating their need for tens of thousands of ventilators to accusing the nation’s carmakers and others of dragging their feet. The carmakers note that they have not been given any contracts yet by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and that the White House had failed to make a decision about who should be supplying the ventilators, which help critically ill patients breathe.
Mr. Trump said Friday that he would invoke the Defense Production Act, which would enable the federal government to mobilize privately-held companies to produce critically-needed supplies. But it is not clear that will speed the process. Ventilators are complex machines, using upward of 1,500 unique parts from more than a dozen nations, and the manufacturers say they will be limited in part by the availability of parts.
Critics of the administration note that the planning for increased production should have begun in late January or February, when the alarm went out that coronavirus was headed to the United States, and that any production that begins in coming weeks will not be available until May or June.
Ventec and General Motors issued a statement Friday which did not directly address the president’s criticism, but which said that G.M. would build ventilators at its factory in Kokomo, Ind., with some scheduled to ship “as soon as next month.”
“Depending on the needs of the federal government, Ventec and GM are poised to deliver the first ventilators next month,” the statement said, “and ramp up to a manufacturing capacity of more than 10,000 critical care ventilators per month with the infrastructure and capability to scale further.” G.M. said it was “donating its resources at cost.”
After Mr. Trump on Thursday suggested that New York officials were overstating their need for ventilators to treat coronavirus patients, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City said Friday that the president was “not looking at the facts of the astronomical growth of this crisis.”
Mr. Trump, who has faced a growing outcry from state, local and health officials around the nation that they will soon face critical shortages of the mechanical ventilators needed for coronavirus patients unable to breathe on their own, played down the need for ventilators in an interview Thursday night with Sean Hannity, the Fox News host.
“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Mr. Trump said, in a reference to New York, where Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made pointed appeals for federal help in obtaining them. “You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’ ”
Mr. Cuomo, in an appearance on Friday morning at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, which is being transformed into a temporary hospital center, did not immediately criticize Mr. Trump by name, but he defended the magnitude of the state’s request.
“Look, I don’t have a crystal ball,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. But I don’t operate here on opinion; I operate on facts and on data and on numbers and on projections.”
And after Mr. Trump criticized New York on Twitter for keeping some of its ventilators in storage, the governor defended the state’s decision to gather ventilators but not immediately deploy them. The current number of hospitalizations, the governor said, did not require their use yet, but the state is bracing for a spike in cases in coming weeks. “We’re gathering them in a stockpile so when we need them, they will be there,” he said.
New York is already home to the most coronavirus cases in the nation. It reported that 519 people had died of the virus as of Friday, up from 385 the day before, Mr. Cuomo said Friday. More than 44,600 people in the state have tested positive for the virus, he said, an increase of more than 7,300 cases overnight. There were 6,481 hospitalized patients, of whom 1,583 were in intensive care.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain tests positive for coronavirus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for the coronavirus and is suffering mild symptoms, he said on Friday. He is the first leader of a major Western country known to have contracted the virus.
“I’ve developed mild symptoms of the coronavirus,” Mr. Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter, noting that he was tested on Thursday after he began running a temperature and suffering a persistent cough.
The prime minister said that he would isolate himself in his official residence, 10 Downing Street, but would not relinquish his duties. On Monday, after resisting harsher measures for more than a week, Mr. Johnson imposed a lockdown on Britain to try to curb the virus’s spread. He has continued to meet with advisers and has appeared most days at a daily televised briefing, though he did not do so on Thursday.
“Be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fight back against coronavirus,” Mr. Johnson said.
A member of Mr. Johnson’s cabinet — Matt Hancock, the British health minister — said later Thursday that he had also tested positive for the coronavirus, and had mild symptoms. He added that he was isolating himself at home.
The prime minister’s diagnosis rattled a country that was already unnerved by news that Prince Charles, the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II and the heir to the throne, had tested positive for the virus. Buckingham Palace said the queen remained healthy and was sequestered at Windsor Castle. Mr. Johnson delivered his weekly briefing to the queen by telephone on Wednesday.
Mr. Johnson had staked out a more relaxed position than other European leaders about the timing and strictness of measures Britain should take to slow the spread of the virus. He initially balked at forcing pubs and restaurants to close and shutting down schools.
Last weekend, however, the government shifted its strategy and embraced the more draconian measures. Mr. Johnson has insisted he is guided by scientific advice and has timed the rollout of distancing measures so they are most effective and accepted by the public. Among the questions the government will face is how many people Mr. Johnson came into contact with over the last few days. Many officials had stopped working in Downing Street, participating in meetings via conference call. But a skeleton staff worked in the residence.
Mr. Johnson did not appear at the daily news conference on Thursday, at which the chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, rolled out the latest plan to protect workers who have lost wages.
Wall Street drops after its best three-day run since 1933.
Stocks fell on Friday after a three-day rally as investors who initially cheered progress on a $2 trillion U.S. relief package saw signs of further economic troubles.
Congress approved the legislation on Friday. And while the plan is the largest emergency spending program in the nation’s history, some economists have said it might not be enough to counter the economic damage from the pandemic.
The S&P 500 dropped more than 2 percent on Friday.
Wall Street had surged for the past three days, as investors bid up shares of companies that were set to receive support from the aid bill. The S&P 500 climbed 6.2 percent on Thursday, even after the government reported a staggering jump in unemployment claims.
Declines in London, Paris and Frankfurt ranged from 2 to 4 percent on Friday. Earlier, Asian markets were generally higher, on the heels of Thursday’s 6 percent gain in U.S. stocks.
The Supreme Court is asked to preserve a program shielding immigrants because 27,000 work in health care.
An unusual filing to the Supreme Court on Friday urged the justices to accept the new reality of the coronavirus and decline to end a program protecting young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers. About 27,000 of them work in health care, many on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic.
Aldo Martinez, a paramedic in Fort Myers, Fla., 26, came to the United States from Mexico when he was 12, and he is able to work thanks to a program announced by President Barack Obama in 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The Trump administration wants to end the program, and at a Supreme Court argument in November a majority of the justices seemed inclined to let it.
Mr. Martinez said it would be foolish to take an army of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians, researchers and other health care workers off the battlefield in the midst of a pandemic.
How did the U.S. overtake the world in new infections?
A series of missteps and lost opportunities dogged the response of the United States with its 330 million residents, which now leads the globe with known cases.
“This could have been stopped by implementing testing and surveillance much earlier — for example, when the first imported cases were identified,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University.
For now, at least, China has contained the coronavirus with draconian measures. But the pathogen had embarked on a Grand Tour of most countries on Earth, with devastating epidemics in Iran, Italy and Spain. More videos emerged of prostrate victims, exhausted nurses and lines of coffins.
Photos take you inside an Italian region where sirens don’t stop wailing for the dead.
While the world’s attention now shifts to its own centers of contagion, in Bergamo, Italy, the sirens keep sounding. Like the air raid sirens of the Second World War, they are the ambulance sirens that many survivors of this war will remember. They blare louder as they get closer, coming to collect the parents and grandparents, the keepers of Italy’s memory.
The grandchildren wave from terraces, and spouses sit back on the corners of now empty beds. And then the sirens start again, becoming fainter as the ambulances drive away toward hospitals crammed with coronavirus patients.
Italy reached 86,498 cases over all on Friday, surpassing China and reflecting an increase of 5,959 from the day before. More than 950 people died over the previous 24 hours, officials said, reflecting the highest daily tally yet and lifting the national death toll to 9,134 — by far the highest in the world.
And the Bergamo area has suffered more than most. Officially 1,328 people have died there. The actual toll may be four times higher, so many that the local paper is given over to death notices.
Once known as a quiet and wealthy province, Bergamo is now a place where Red Cross workers go door to door, carrying away the afflicted.
“At this point, all you hear in Bergamo is sirens,” said Michela Travelli.
South Africa locks down in the most restrictive action yet for the African continent.
South Africa, Africa’s most industrialized nation, ordered most of its 59 million people to stay at home for three weeks starting today. It is by far the biggest and most restrictive action undertaken on the African continent to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The nationwide lockdown followed an alarming increase in confirmed cases across South Africa’s nine provinces. Three weeks after detecting its first infection, the country is now the center of the pandemic on the continent, with more than 1,000 confirmed cases, double the number the next hardest-hit country, Egypt.
In Johannesburg, the country’s biggest city, shops and offices closed. A few delivery trucks, minibus taxis and ambulances were all that remained of rush-hour traffic. Gas stations, which are allowed to operate, were empty. Some residents lugged heavy plastic bags packed with food, unable to find public transportation to take them home.
While the deadly virus was slow to take hold in Africa, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths have gradually increased in recent days, raising fears about the continent’s readiness to deal with a pandemic.
To date, 46 African states have reported a total of 3,243 positive cases and 83 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Senegal have all reported over 100 cases, mostly imported by visitors from Europe.
So far the virus has spread fastest in some of Africa’s most economically developed countries, which have more air connections and commerce with Europe and China and also the capacity to do the testing to confirm positive cases.
France extends its lockdown by two weeks.
France has extended its lockdown period for at least two weeks, meaning it will end no earlier than April 15.
“This period will obviously be extended if the health situation demands it,” Édouard Philippe, France’s prime minister, said at a news conference in Paris on Friday.
The country reported 29,155 cases and 1,696 deaths on Thursday.
After 10 days of confinement measures, Mr. Philippe said, “it is clear that we are only at the beginning of the epidemic wave” that had already “overwhelmed” eastern France and appeared ready to do the same in the north and in the Paris region.
The U.K. salutes its health workers, as New York mourns a casualty.
From stone cottages in the Lake District to apartment buildings in London, an explosion of sound pierced the darkness as people clapped, played instruments and rang bells in a show of solidarity.
Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye were among the London landmarks bathed in blue light in tribute.
Even as the country prepared for the worst, with an army of 500,000 volunteering to help ease the burden on government workers, London hospitals were already struggling to meet the demands of the first wave of patients.
And there was a deep awareness that much more will be asked of medical workers in the days ahead.
The dangers facing doctors, nurses and other caregivers has been demonstrated in every country where the virus has insinuated itself.
And the strains on strong health care systems — with protective gear and vital equipment in desperately short supply — underscored the possible tragedy in developing nations.
In Spain, health care workers have been infected at an alarming rate, accounting for more than 10 percent of cases.
The toll on doctors in Italy continues to grow, with at least 37 dying after contracting the virus.
In New York, the story of Kious Kelly, an assistant nurse manager at Mount Sinai West hospital in Manhattan, has gripped the nation.
Mr. Kelly texted his sister, Marya Patrice Sherron, on March 18 to say he had contracted the coronavirus and was on a ventilator in the intensive care unit.
He said he could text, but not talk.
“‘I’m OK,’” he wrote, Ms. Sherron recalled in an interview on Thursday. “‘Don’t tell Mom and Dad. They’ll worry.’”
Mr. Kelly, 48, died late Tuesday.
In a shift in tone, Trump praises China’s handling of the outbreak.
A day before the call, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in Washington that “the Chinese Communist Party poses a threat to our health and way of life, as the Wuhan virus outbreak clearly has demonstrated.”
Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi last spoke directly in February, and both took part in a video conference call of leaders of the Group of 20 nations on Thursday.
China’s readout of the two leaders’ conversation was more restrained. Perhaps mindful of criticism of the country’s early handing of the epidemic, Mr. Xi stressed in the call that China had been sharing information in “an open, transparent and responsible manner” with the World Health Organization and the United States.
“I am paying very close attention and worried about the development of the epidemic in the United States,” Mr. Xi said.
“China understands the difficult situation the U.S. is currently in and is willing to provide as much support as it can within its power,” China’s foreign ministry said, referring to Mr. Xi’s comment.
As schools shut down, parents and students struggle to keep up.
Children the world over — and their parents — are having to grapple with the new reality that in many places, schools are unlikely to reopen before the start of the new academic year in autumn, with closures likely to last for months rather than weeks.
For some students, the challenge runs even deeper.
In China, the outbreak and subsequent shutdown exposed a digital divide that saw some children left without access to online learning. Now the United States, which surpassed China in its number of cases on Thursday, is navigating the same territory.
Allia Phillips, a fourth grader on the honor roll, was excited about picking up an iPad from her school in Harlem last week after her school was forced to close. But the shelter she lives in with her mother and grandmother does not have internet. And her mother worries that she will be left behind.
An estimated 114,000 children in New York City live in shelters and unstable housing, and many worry that school closures will hit them the hardest.
In much of Europe, schools are preparing to be closed through the spring. In Spain, where the outbreak has exploded and schools remain closed indefinitely, parents are struggling to keep their children focused. An extension of an initial two week countrywide lockdown has made that task more challenging.
“During the first week, we were all about drawing and writing and practicing with numbers,” Clara Gonzalez, a 28-year-old mother of two, said. The second week was less about activities. “They sleep less, they have a holiday-like schedule.”
The Spanish government is trying to salvage the school year and the main exams, including ones for entering university, amid growing concerns that a prolonged lockdown could make that impossible. On Thursday, Isabel Celaá, Spain’s education minister, said she expected schools to reopen in May or June, so that the year would not be lost, but critics say that may be wishful thinking.
What you can do to protect yourself and everyone else.
You can take several steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and keep yourself safe. Be consistent about social distancing. Wash your hands often. And when you do leave your home for groceries or other essentials, wipe down your shopping cart and be smart about what you are purchasing.
Crowds clash with the police in Hubei Province, center of China’s outbreak.
Huge crowds clashed with Chinese police officers on Friday on a bridge connecting the provinces of Hubei and Jiangxi, one of the largest signs yet of public frustration and unrest at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in China.
It was not immediately unclear what prompted the clash, which took place on a bridge spanning the Yangtze River. But Hubei residents have faced rampant discrimination and fear across China since the outbreak first emerged in the provincial capital, Wuhan. And this week is the first time in two months that they have been free to leave the province, after the government eased a lockdown ordered to contain the virus.
Videos on social media showed overturned cars, police officers with shields pushing against large crowds, and groups of people rocking what appeared to be police vehicles, or shattering their windows. One video showed hundreds of people marching across the bridge, shouting, “Go Hubei!”
A man who identified himself as Ma Yanzhou, the Communist Party leader of Huangmei, urged the crowds to disperse. He said he would speak with officials in Jiujiang, the city on the other end of the bridge from Hubei, to resolve the dispute.
“We strive to solve this problem immediately so that everyone can go to Jiujiang to work,” he said into a megaphone.
He added, “Everybody gathering on the bridge is extremely dangerous. First, there is a danger to traffic safety. Second, there is the danger of spreading the virus.”
Hubei residents, with the exception of those in Wuhan, have been free to leave the province since Wednesday if they obtain a “green” health code. But many have already faced difficulties finding transportation, or have been turned away by communities in their destinations.
The order to stay home in Italy leads to a steep drop in crime.
Crime dropped 64 percent from March 1 through March 20, compared to the same period last year, according to statistics published this week by the Italian Interior Ministry.
Not unexpectedly, with everyone in their homes, there was a significant decline in house break-ins. Distancing measures have also meant a decrease in pickpocketing, down 75.8 percent from last March, and prostitution has dropped. Drug offenses also declined.
Online fraud has increased, however, according the Interior Ministry report, with fake fund-raising websites popping up and sites selling masks and other products at astronomical markups.
Police officers have been busy monitoring the streets, to make sure anyone outdoors has a good reason. Since the lockdown began on March 11, nearly 2.7 million people have been stopped by police and 115,000 fined.
Reporting was contributed by Michael Cooper, Alan Blinder, David E. Sanger, Emily Cochrane, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Maya Salam, John Eligon, Amy Qin, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Elian Peltier, Raphael Minder, Jason Horowitz, Fabio Bucciarelli, Nikita Stewart, Michael Crowley, Lara Jakes, Jesse Drucker, Abdi Latif Dahir, Vikas Bajaj, Carl Hulse, Steven Lee Myers, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Steven Erlanger, Caitlin Dickerson, Annie Correal, Adam Liptak and Neil MacFarquhar.