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Coronavirus: Senate agrees $1.8tn stimulus package with Trump

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Media captionTrump on goal to reopen US by Easter: It’s ‘a beautiful timeline’

A stimulus package worth more than $1.8 trillion (£1.5tn) has been agreed by US Senate leaders and the White House to ease the impact of coronavirus.

It reportedly includes payments of $1,200 to most American adults and aid to help small businesses pay workers.

Full details of the deal, which Congress is expected to pass, are not known.

Financial markets around the world rose on news of the deal.

President Donald Trump has said he hopes the US will shake off coronavirus within less than three weeks.

But the top US infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, warned that “you have to be very flexible” about a timeframe for ending the crisis.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned the illness was spreading faster than “a bullet train” in his state, which is at the centre of the pandemic in the US.

After 802 deaths and 55,225 confirmed infections, America is more than midway through a 15-day attempt to slow the spread of the virus through social distancing.

Around 19,000 people have died with coronavirus across the planet since it emerged in China’s Wuhan province in January, and more than 425,000 infections have been confirmed.

Southern Europe is now at the centre of the pandemic, with Italy and Spain recording hundreds of new deaths every day.

Governments around the world have responded by locking down societies in the hope of slowing the spread of the virus.

What do we know about the deal?

The agreement announced by Democratic and Republican senator leaders at 01:30EDT (05:30GMT) on Wednesday includes tax rebates, loans, money for hospitals and rescue packages.

According to US media, individuals who earn $75,000 or less would get direct payments of $1,200 each, with married couples earning up to $150,000 receiving $2,400 and an additional $500 per each child.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described the package as a “wartime level of investment” in the US nation. If passed, it would be the largest government economic stimulus in US history.

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Media captionCelebrating a birthday party by video chat

It must still be voted through the House of Representatives and the Senate before President Trump signs it off but it enjoys cross-party support.

One factor that may delay its passage is the question of how voting will be conducted, given that some members of Congress are off with coronavirus or are self-isolating having come into contact with infected people.

How did officials react?

In New York, Governor Cuomo dismissed the plan as “terrible for the state” and called the proposed $3.8bn “a drop in the bucket, as to need”.

He said New York was facing a $15bn revenue shortfall, and estimated that $1bn has already been spent on the coronavirus response.

The details of the bill have not yet gone to the House, making some lawmakers wary of signalling their early approval.

Left-wing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents the Bronx neighbourhood of New York City, called the details of the bill “concerning”, tweeting that it “seems to give a *HALF TRILLION DOLLARS* away to big corporations,” with very few protections for workers.

Meanwhile, three Republican senators, Tim Scott, Ben Sasse and Lindsey Graham, said the bill had a “massive drafting error” that meant “there is a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work”.

Unless this was fixed, or the government ensured no one would earn more by not working than working, “we must sadly oppose the fast-tracking of this bill”, they said in a joint statement.

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who has remained in Washington as most lawmakers have returned to their home districts, has voiced her hope that the bill can be passed by unanimous consent which would allow members of Congress to stay away from the House chamber in order to cast their votes.

If any member objects to unanimous consent, lawmakers will be asked to return to Washington and vote over the course of an entire day, in order to limit how many people are present on the House floor at one time.

Is Easter a realistic deadline?

Mr Trump said he hoped the country could get back to normal by Easter, which falls on 12 April this year.

“We’re going to be opening relatively soon…” he told Fox News. “I would love to have the country opened up and just rearing to go by Easter.”

But he later sounded more cautious, saying: “We’ll only do it if it’s good.”

He added that re-opening could be limited to “sections” of the country such as “the farm belt”.

“You know, you can look at a date but you’ve got to be very flexible on that,” said Dr Fauci.

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People can be seen wearing protective masks on Miami’s mass transit system

“No one,” he added, “is going to want to tone down things when you see what’s going on in a place like New York City”.

New York accounts for 285 of US deaths with coronavirus, more than any other state, and had more than 30,800 cases as of Wednesday – about half of all the cases in the US.

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Media captionThe New York Governor Andrew Cuomo: The city ‘is a test case’

On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo warned: “New York is the canary in the coal mine, New York is happening first, what is happening to New York will happen to California and Illinois, it is just a matter of time.”


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