Coronavirus: US Senate approves $1.8tn stimulus package

New figures show US now has highest number of cases in world

An ER doctor in Queens, New York Dr Colleen Smith gives a rare look inside a hospital at the centre of the coronavirus pandemic. “We don’t have the tools that we need", she says. Video: New York Times

 

The US House of Representatives is due to vote on Friday on the largest stimulus package in American history, after the Senate gave the green light to the package in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The $1.8 trillion plan includes a range of measures, including billions in direct payments to American taxpayers, loans to distressed companies and expanded unemployment benefits, as Congress tries to shore up an economy buckling under the strain of coronavirus.

This comes as new figures show the US now leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases.

According to a running count by Johns Hopkins University, the number of people infected in the US topped 82,000 on Thursday. That is just ahead of the 81,000 cases in China, and 80,000 in Italy.

The stimulus Bill, passed by the Senate, must now be approved by the 435-member House, with most members away from Washington. But House speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated on Thursday that he hoped the Bill would pass by voice vote, negating the need for an in-person vote.

Ms Pelosi, who turned 80 on Thursday, predicted that the legislation would pass “with strong bipartisan support”. But she warned that this could be just the start of legislative solutions to the coronavirus crisis, which has brought parts of the US economy to a standstill. The Bill will then go to President Donald Trump for signing.

Among the components of the legislation are direct payments to Americans. Adults earning up to $75,000 a year will receive a one-off payment of $1,200, with an extra $500 allocated per child. The payments will be phased out for those earning between $75,000 and $150,000 per year, with those earning above that point ineligible for the emergency money.

‘People’s pockets’

Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, who was centrally involved in negotiating the package with congressional Democrats and Republicans, said he expected Americans to begin receiving the cheques in three weeks. “We’re determined to get money in people’s pockets immediately,” he said.

He was speaking as new figures from the department of labour showed that 3.3 million Americans sought unemployment benefits last week – the highest number in history. Asked about the new jobless figures, Mr Mnuchin replied: “I just think these numbers right now are not relevant”, noting that they had been recorded before the stimulus Bill was announced. “The good thing about this Bill is the president is protecting these people.”

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said that the president’s prediction this week that the country could reopen by Easter had always been aspirational, and said the president would “follow the facts of the data” before determining an actual date.

America’s coronavirus cases are continuing to rise. New data showed on Thursday that more than 1,000 Americans have died due to Covid-19.

New York infection

New York city and state continued to see the worst level of infection. According to the latest data, New York state had more than 37,000 recorded cases on Thursday, up 6,400 from the previous day. A total of 385 people had died in the state from the virus, the majority of them in New York city.

The number of hospitalised patients also rose by 40 per cent in one day, governor Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference on Thursday. Some 5,327 coronavirus patients have now been admitted to hospital, 1,290 of whom are in intensive care.

There were also fears for New Orleans. Louisiana has reported one of the highest levels of coronavirus infections in the country, with more than 2,000 cases recorded.

Mr Trump spent the day at the White House, from where the coronavirus taskforce was expected to give a press conference on Thursday night.

During the day he participated in a teleconference call with state governors around the country.

The federal government said it planned to send “guidelines” to states on whether to relax or enhance measures they have put in place, categorising different parts of the country as “high-risk, medium-risk or low-risk”.