The US Senate late on Wednesday unanimously passed the nation’s largest-ever rescue package, a US$2 trillion lifeline to suffering Americans, critically depleted hospitals and an economy ravaged by a rapidly spreading COVID-19 crisis.
The measure cleared the Senate 96-0 after days of tumultuous, sometimes bitter negotiations and debate, as the US death toll for the pandemic soared.
Outbreaks have grown nationwide, but with particular fear that New York City could be the next epicenter of the pandemic.
“Let us tell them tonight that help is on the way, that they are not truly alone; that this country, that this Senate, that this government is here for them in a time of dire need,” US Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, said moments before the vote. “Let us marshal this government into action.”
The measure heads to the US House of Representatives, where a Democratic leader said that he expected it to pass by voice vote today, before it goes to US President Donald Trump for his signature.
Second-ranking House Republican Steve Scalise was urging his fellow Republicans to vote to pass the package, his communications director said.
The monster package, thrashed out between Republicans, Democrats and the White House, provides direct cash payments to millions of hurting American taxpayers, amounting to US$3,400 for an average family of four.
It provides about US$500 billion in grants and loans to small businesses and core industries, including as much as US$50 billion for strained airlines and their employees.
It also provides US$100 billion of desperately needed resources for hospitals and other health facilities in dire need of medical equipment, and dramatically expands unemployment benefits to help workers sickened by the coronavirus or laid off during the crisis.
The US has the third-highest number of infections globally behind China and Italy — about half are in the state of New York.
“We still have the trajectory going up,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, adding that about 12 percent of the people who test positive require hospitalization.
Health officials anticipate that about 120,000 coronavirus patients would need treatment in New York’s hospitals, which have a capacity of 50,000 beds, Cuomo said.
The intensity of the crisis caught the Trump administration by surprise, and by Wednesday, the president and his top Cabinet members were demanding that the Senate quicken the pace and pass the legislation.
“We need to get this money into the American economy and [to] American workers,” US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said.
Birmingham, Alabama, and Charlotte, North Carolina, have become the latest major US cities to order residents to stay indoors.
“The Senate just pivoted from one of the most divided periods in recent memory to passing the largest rescue package in American history,” US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Twitter.
It dwarfs the bailouts of 2008, when a worldwide financial crisis sent the US economy into a tailspin.
With infections rising, the injection for hospitals could be the bill’s most effective element in fighting the pandemic, as it will help facilities provide protective gear, intensive care beds, and ventilators and other medical equipment.
On Wednesday, Trump said on Twitter that four hospitals being built in New York with federal assistance “are moving along very well, ahead of schedule.”
On Tuesday, he said that social distancing had caused too much pain to the economy, adding that he wanted the country “opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting
A squad of gun-toting police officers patrolled Myanmar’s sacred site of Bagan under the cover of night, taking on plunderers snatching relics from temples forsaken by tourists due to COVID-19 restrictions. Each evening as dusk falls, about 100 officers fan out across the plain of Bagan covering 50km2, sweeping flashlights over the crumbling monuments to scour for intruders. “Our security forces are patrolling day and night,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Sein Win told reporters. “We have it under control for the moment, but it’s a challenge.” The central Burmese city is strewn with more than 3,500 ancient monuments — stupas, temples, murals and sculptures