Trump outlines virus response plan, suspends travel from Europe
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President Donald Trump announced a range of actions and recommendations in an address to the nation Wednesday night as Washington raced to confront a viral pandemic that is roiling global financial markets and disrupting the daily lives of Americans. Among them:
-Suspend all travel from Europe, excluding UK, starting Friday for 30 days amid virus outbreak
-Extend insurance coverage for coronavirus treatments.
-A promise of “financial relief” for U.S. residents affected by coronavirus, and aid for businesses hit by the economic turmoil.
-Payroll tax relief that must be approved by Congress.
Congress, for its part, unveiled a multibillion-dollar aid package that was expected to be voted on by the House as soon as Thursday.
The mounting effort to contain the virus and financial fallout intensified on a grueling day: Communities canceled public events nationwide, universities moved to cancel in-person classes, and families grappled with the impact of disruptions to public schools. The number of confirmed cases of the infection topped 1,000 in the U.S. and the World Health Organization declared the global crisis is now a pandemic.
“I can say we will see more cases, and things will get worse than they are right now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said in testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. He said the virus is “10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu.”
In a week of mixed messages and false starts, Washington suddenly seemed poised to act.
“Now we’re hitting a patch and we’re going to have to do something with respect to getting rid of this virus as quickly as possible and as safely as possible,” Trump said.
“As you know, we have another part of the world, Europe, that is in very tough shape, having a hard time right now with the virus,” Trump said during a meeting with bankers to discuss how the financial services industry can help consumers and small businesses affected by the outbreak.
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled an economic assistance plan that was gaining bipartisan backing. Central to the package is free coronavirus testing nationwide and emergency funding to reimburse lost paychecks for those self-quarantining, missing work or losing jobs amid the outbreak.
The draft legislation would create a new federal emergency sick leave benefit for people with the virus or caring for a coronavirus victim. It would provide two-thirds of an employee’s monthly income for up to three months.
To that end, the administration floated several other strategies, including the rare idea of declaring a national disaster that could potentially unlock funding streams, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the planning and granted anonymity.
A major disaster declaration provides additional authorities for federal agencies, including the military, to assist in responding to an emergency, including medical care, sheltering and distributing goods.
The White House was expected to delay the April 15 federal tax filing deadline for some taxpayers in a bid to soften the impact of the virus outbreak on the U.S. economy.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Congress’ attending physician told staff there could be 70 million to 100 million coronavirus cases in the U.S. That’s on par with other estimates. A Harvard official has estimated that 20% to 60% of adults will get the virus, noting it’s “a pretty wide range.”
Trump had been promoting a broader economic stimulus package as the financial markets reel, but lawmakers from both political parties roundly panned his call for a payroll tax holiday or industry aid.
Pelosi’s goal is to pass an aid package before lawmakers leave town for a previously scheduled weeklong recess, and revisit potential stimulus measures later.
In Washington, tourists still arrived at the U.S. Capitol, but an official unauthorized to discuss the situation and speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that tours would soon be shut down.
Associated Press writers Lauran Neergaard, Marty Crutsinger, Laurie Kellman and Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.
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