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coronavirus – The New York Times

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The Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a sweeping, $2 trillion fiscal measure to shore up the United States economy as it weathers the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, advancing the largest fiscal stimulus package in modern American history.

The House was expected to quickly take up the bill on Friday and pass it, sending it to President Trump for his signature.

The legislation would send direct payments of $1,200 to Americans earning up to $75,000 — which would gradually phase out for higher earners and end for those with incomes more than $99,000 — and an additional $500 per child. It would substantially expand jobless aid, providing an additional 13 weeks and a four-month enhancement of benefits, extending them for the first time to freelancers and gig workers and adding $600 per week on top of the usual payment.

The measure would also provide $350 billion in federally guaranteed loans to small businesses and establish a $500 billion government lending program for distressed companies reeling from the impact of the crisis, allowing the administration 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.

The bill was the product of intense bipartisan negotiations among Republicans, Democrats and the White House. Three senators were absent from the late-night roll call because of the novel coronavirus. Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, has contracted Covid-19, while two Utah Republicans, Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, were in self-isolation out of an abundance of caution after spending time with Mr. Paul. Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican, also missed the vote because he wasn’t feeling well and had left Washington to return home out of an abundance of caution, a spokesman said.

The urgent update from the Peace Corps landed abruptly in the email inboxes of volunteers on March 15: It was time to evacuate.

Miguel Garcia, a 27-year-old volunteer leader in the Dominican Republic, had a job to do. He had 24 hours to get 32 volunteers scattered across the country to Santo Domingo, the capital. Several were about eight hours away in hard-to-reach communities.

“Panic took over, and I was just mindlessly doing things,” Mr. Garcia said. “It wasn’t until I came home to an apartment that needed to be packed that it all hit me. I showered in cold water for about 45 minutes and cried, overwhelmed by all of the people I needed to communicate with and say goodbye to.”

For the first time in its nearly 60-year history, the Peace Corps has temporarily suspended its operations, evacuating more than 7,000 volunteers from posts in more than 60 countries because of the coronavirus pandemic.

An independent agency of the U.S. government created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the corps sends volunteers abroad to help with social and economic development projects. They dig wells, teach in schools and train people in everything from sewing to healthy breastfeeding.

In an open letter, Jody Olsen, the director of the Peace Corps, said the move was meant to protect volunteers and prevent them from being stranded during the pandemic. Within hours, volunteers were packing their bags, saying their farewells and rushing to designated meeting places as airlines canceled flights and countries began closing borders.

In interviews, volunteers described shock, confusion and heartbreak as they arrived back home in the United States.

“The situation in Morocco went so fast,” said Elizabeth Burke, 54, who had been in the country for less than a year, teaching English and working at a sewing cooperative. “It went from Moroccans not being aware of the coronavirus and what was going on to a complete shutdown.”

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday that he was seeing indications that the virus could keep returning as a “seasonal, cyclic thing,” like the flu.

One of the key questions about the virus has been whether its spread would slow or stop in warm weather and return in cold weather, and Dr. Fauci suggested that it may follow that seasonal pattern.

“What we are starting to see now in the southern hemisphere,” he said, referring specifically to southern Africa, “is that we are having cases that are appearing as they go into their winter season. And if, in fact, they have a substantial outbreak, it will be inevitable that we need to be prepared that we will get a cycle around the second time.”

That makes it all the more important that scientists “have a vaccine available for that next cycle,” as well as “a menu of drugs that we have shown to be effective and shown to be safe,” he said.

In states hit hard by the coronavirus, like New York and California, governors and mayors have mandated the closure of all but the obviously essential stores, like supermarkets and pharmacies. And the Department of Homeland Security has laid out guidelines for businesses across the country to follow when deciding whether to stay open, even in regions not known to be hot spots for the virus. The agency is careful to note that its definition of a “critical” work force is not an official standard, leaving it up to corporations to decide for themselves.

Given this latitude, retailers have kept thousands of stores open, even as health experts warn that the virus is likely to spread more widely across the country in the coming weeks.

At some Guitar Center stores, employees are still allowing customers to try out models of guitars. Dillard’s, a department store chain popular in the South, is still welcoming shoppers looking for clothing and makeup. And Michaels, the arts and crafts chain, says it is keeping many of its stores open to provide supplies to parents teaching their homebound children. “We are here for the makers,” the retailer said in an email to one concerned customer.

That some retail stores are staying open while other businesses have closed reflects the piecemeal approach to combating the pandemic in the United States. There are emergency orders limiting business to essential retailers in about half the country, but much of the South and West has no such government restrictions.

Coronavirus-related anxiety is real and likely impacting many aspects of your life, from your eating habits to the way your children are acting. There is also a grief that comes along with the loss of our daily routines and rituals. Here are some tips to help you get through these tough times.

Reporting was contributed by Julie Davis, Emily Cochrane, Nicholas Fandos, Michael Corkery, Sapna Maheshwari and Mariel Padilla.



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Lawmakers urge Mnuchin against onerous airline aid conditions

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American Airlines passenger planes crowd a runway where they are parked due to flight reductions to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Tulsa International Airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S. March 23, 2020.

Nick Oxford | REUTERS

Leading congressional Democrats on Sunday urged Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to quickly reach agreements and not place onerous conditions on $25 billion in payroll grants for airlines reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mnuchin last month said taxpayers must be “compensated” for aid given to airlines. Treasury guidelines state the department said it may demand warrants, options, preferred stock or other securities in exchange for the grants. But industry members, unions and others have argued that if the Treasury Department is too aggressive in its demands, such as by insisting on large equity stakes, it could deter airlines from taking the grants altogether.

In addition to payroll grants, Congress also approved $29 billion in loans to passenger and cargo airlines as part of the historic $2 trillion coronavirus aid package last month.

“The intent of this program was very clear: keep America’s hardworking aviation professionals in their jobs through direct payroll payments from the Treasury Department,” wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and other top Democrats. 

“We are concerned the Treasury Department’s recent guidance on the ‘Airline Industry Payroll Support’ Program does not fully reflect the intent of Congress,” they wrote. 

The Treasury Department had advised airlines requesting payroll grants to submit their proposals by this past Friday. Airlines, including Delta, JetBlue, American, United and Spirit, have said they applied for portions of the aid. They did not disclose the amounts they requested, nor the structure they proposed. 

Airlines and the Treasury will now begin negotiations, during which the lawmakers said Treasury must be judicious in its requests. 

“Assistance must not come with unreasonable conditions that would force an employer to choose bankruptcy instead of providing payroll grants to its workers,” wrote Pelosi, Schumer, as well as Rep. Peter DeFazio,  D-Ore, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

“While we appreciate the Department’s desire to seek ‘warrants’ in exchange for payroll assistance, we do not support any effort that would undermine the ability of any aviation worker to receive direct payroll assistance,” the lawmakers added. 

The letter comes after Sen. Schumer and other top Democrats similarly called on Mnuchin to protect the oversight function of the $500 billion bailout fund established as part of the $2 trillion deal. Mnuchin was a key figure during those negotiations, and he will help run the $500 billion fund. Democrats have said they will closely watch all money dispensed from the bailout fund, including airline aid. 

The Treasury Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

Airlines’ grim forecast

Even with grants that could keep their roughly 750,000 workers retained and paid through Sept. 30, airlines are digging in for a prolonged slump in travel demand because of the virus. The virus, which has infected more than 300,000 in the U.S., and harsh measures to avoid it from spreading further are likely to keep a lid on demand in the coming months, executives have said.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian on Friday said the airline applied for its share of the worker grants, but warned more funds are needed.

“But those funds alone are not nearly enough,” Bastian wrote to employees, adding that the carrier expects second-quarter revenue to fall 90% on the year. “Without the self-help actions we are taking to save costs and raise new financing, that money would be gone by June.”

Those actions that Delta and its competitors are taking include shrinking their networks, parking hundreds of jets and asking thousands of employees to take unpaid or partially paid leave. 

President Donald Trump last week signaled his administration is considering restricting domestic flights from coronavirus hot spots, but his administration hasn’t made such an order and airlines are making significant cuts of their own.

United Airlines said Saturday that it is slashing service at its Newark hub from 139 daily flights to just 15, and from New York’s LaGuardia Airport from 18 to two daily flights for the next three weeks.

“While New York and New Jersey are the primary COVID-19 hotspots today, we will also watch the situation on the ground in stations all across our network and evaluate additional mitigation measures we can take in those locations as well,” Greg Hart, United’s chief operations officer, wrote to employees on Saturday. United’s local employees will continue to be paid with benefits despite the reduction, Hart said.

JetBlue’s CEO told employees on Friday that the company is burning through $10 million a day as the carrier spends more than it is making. The airline said its April capacity will be down 70% from a year ago, with deep cuts in New York, where it’s based, and the surrounding area.

United, Delta and JetBlue have offered medical volunteers free flights.



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The US oil industry is more likely to be saved by a government bailout than by OPEC

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Donald Trump has called himself a “war-time” president, referring to his campaign as commander-in-chief against coronavirus. In past days, he has taken on a new role as negotiator-in-chief trying to end the oil-price war that is endangering U.S. shale producers and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

This week’s result is an emergency, virtual meeting of OPEC leaders with Russia, Canada and Mexico. It was delayed from Monday until Thursday due to an ongoing Saudi-Moscow dispute about how to address the biggest collapse in global demand and prices since the discovery of the world’s first viable oil well in the mid-19th century.

What’s decided at that meeting will say much about the limits to the leverage President Trump wields as the world’s leading oil and gas producer and with two authoritarian leaders in whom he’s invested so much – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

It was the bitter Riyadh-Moscow battle for market share since early March that had prompted a record two-thirds decline in oil prices to $19.27 per barrel for West Texas Intermediate, the lowest point since 2002. Yet Trump’s intervention with both men last week, as described to CNBC’s Joe Kiernan, had seemed to pay off.

Trump said that he expected OPEC and the Russians to announce cuts of as much as 15 million barrels off the global total of 100 million. Markets rallied on Thursday and Friday to their biggest one-week gains ever of nearly 37% – only for investors to wake up this weekend to continued Saudi-Russian sniping and the possibility of a renewed price plunge this week.

What markets are missing in these radical swings is that a greater power than these three alpha males – Trump, Putin and MBS – is at work. They face the inescapable force of COVID-19, which for weeks and perhaps months to come will depress the global economy. April demand is thought to have dropped by more than 20 million barrels and perhaps by as much as 30 million – a far greater sum than any cuts producers may announce this week.

Never has the world experienced such a double whammy of demand shock and supply surge. In the end, it could be limits to global storage more than Trumpian intervention that shuts off the spigots.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and energy expert Daniel Yergin calculates that “virtually every available gallon of storage space in the world will be full by late April or early May.  When that happens, two things will result: prices will plummet and producers will shut down wells because they cannot dispose of the oil.”

However this remarkable chapter in energy history ends, it’s revealing to study what was behind President Trump’s dramatic course reversal on how to approach the record decline of oil prices, which he on March 31stcalled “the greatest tax cut ever given” the American consumer.

Some factors behind this U-turn were the persistent influence of 2020 electoral politics, the little-known role of former Energy Secretary Rick Perry and a threat to a Saudi-owned Texas refinery, and the lobbying power of the American energy industry (and some 2.5 million jobs it’s estimated to create).

President Trump began to reverse course when confronted by aggressive lobbying by American oil companies and shale producers that he should apply more pressure on his Russian and Saudi friends to cut their production. His concerns grew further when confronted by the potential impact of energy company bankruptcies on U.S. employment and his own November electoral chances, particularly in Texas.

Most intriguing, as the Financial Times reported Friday, a key individual behind the president’s apparent turn was former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who was Trump’s energy secretary until the end of last year.

Though Perry had established good relations with his Saudi partners, he advocated that the U.S. block Saudi crude from reaching North America’s biggest refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, which is fully owned by the Saudis.

Speaking to Fox News on March 31st , Perry said he would advise Trump to tell U.S.-based refineries to use only American-produced crude for the next two to three months. That would send a “clear message that we’re just not going to let foreign oil flow in here,” Perry said.

Shale producers had been lobbying the White House at the same time to suspend U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia and impose further sanctions on Russian energy until the new countries cut their production. They also argued that the president should consider lifting some existing Russian sanctions should Putin play ball and back off his campaign to put them out of business. 

However, it appears to have been the threat to the Saudi refinery and to its overall relations with the United States which got Riyadh’s attention. When confronted by the possibility that Putin and the Saudi crown prince might not deliver on their production cuts this weekend, Trump upped the ante on Saturday and said he would impose tariffs on oil imports to “protect” U.S. energy workers from an oil price crash.

This would be a win for the smaller and mid-sized producers versus United States’ oil majors, who have opposed punitive tariffs.  

At the same time, President Trump may need to determine how he can deliver on Saudi demands for U.S. production cuts, lacking any direct ability to influence American producers. The two likeliest options would be a voluntary decision of the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, or a shutdown of Gulf of Mexico platforms and their 1.8 million barrels daily, using the threat of coronavirus to their workers as the reasoning.

The uncomfortable fact for President Trump is that despite his long-standing criticism of OPEC and his support for free energy markets, he needs the cartel’s market intervention to keep shale producers afloat.

President Trump doesn’t have good options. He lacks easy leverage over the players, domestic and international, and he’s got even less control over the COVID economic hit.

In the end, it is more likely that a US government bailout will save the industry, rather than a global market intervention.

Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States’ most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper’s European edition. His latest book – “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth” – was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week’s top stories and trends.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.





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US health officials recommend Americans wear face masks in public as death toll jumps | ABC News

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Health officials in the United States are now recommending Americans wear cloth face masks when they go out in public in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The death toll in the US continues to rise sharply. In New York, it’s nearly doubled in just the past three days.

North America correspondent James Glenday reports.

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