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U.S. debates massive aid package as coronavirus cases continue to mount

The latest:

  • Pressure grows for a 5th virus aid package in Washington as U.S. cases grow.
  • Many schools set to resume in August in U.S., but uncertainty still reigns.
  • EU leaders resume talks Monday morning on COVID-19 recovery fund.
  • House of Commons meets in Ottawa to discuss extending emergency wade subsidy.
  • Wearing a mask became mandatory in Quebec over the weekend.
  • How close are we to a vaccine for COVID-19?

Top Republicans in Congress are expected to meet Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on the next COVID-19 aid package as the crisis many hoped would have improved has dramatically worsened, just as emergency relief is expiring.

New divisions between the Senate GOP majority and the White House posed fresh challenges. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was prepared to roll out the $1 trillion US package in a matter of days. But the administration panned more virus testing money and interjected other priorities that could complicate quick passage.

Lawmakers were returning to a Capitol still off-limits to tourists, another sign of the nation’s difficulty containing the coronavirus. Rather than easing, the pandemic’s devastating cycle is happening all over again, leaving Congress little choice but to engineer another costly rescue. Businesses are shutting down again, schools cannot fully reopen and jobs are disappearing, all while federal aid expired.

More than 3.6 million people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the U.S. and 140,000 have died. Daily growth in cases has tripled to more than 70,000 since mid-May, and the seven-day moving average of deaths, after falling steadily from April to July, has turned higher.

Without a successful federal strategy coming from the White House, lawmakers are trying to draft one.

“It’s not going to magically disappear,” said a sombre McConnell last week during a visit to a hospital in his home state of Kentucky to thank front-line workers.

WATCH | Trump, Chris Wallace spar over COVID-19 mortality rate:

U.S. President Donald Trump downplayed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the country, including the death rate, after being challenged during a Fox News Sunday interview. 1:50

McConnell and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy were set to meet with Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “to fine-tune” the legislation, acting chief of staff Mark Meadows said on Fox News.

The political stakes are high for all sides before the November election, but even more so for the nation, which has registered more coronavirus infections and a higher death count than any other country.

Just as the pandemic’s ferocious cycle is starting again, the first round of aid is running out.

A federal $600-a-week boost to regular unemployment benefits expires at the end of the month. So, too, does a federal ban on evictions on millions of rental units.

With 17 straight weeks of unemployment claims topping one million, many households were facing a cash crunch and losing employer-backed health insurance coverage.

The latest package from McConnell has been quietly crafted behind closed doors for weeks and was expected to include $75 billion US to help schools reopen, reduced unemployment benefits alongside a fresh round of direct $1,200 cash payments to Americans, and a sweeping five-year liability shield against coronavirus lawsuits.

But as the White House weighed in, the administration was panning some $25 billion in proposed new funds for testing and tracing, said one Republican familiar with the discussions. The administration’s objections were first reported by The Washington Post.

The new push from the White House put the administration at odds with Republican allies in Congress, a disconnect that threatened to upend an already difficult legislative process. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi already passed Democrats’ vast $3 trillion US proposal, and virus cases and deaths have only increased since.

Senate Democrats were investigating why the Trump administration had not yet spent some of the $25 billion previously allocated for testing in an earlier aid bill.

As McConnell prepared to roll out his $1 trillion-plus proposal, he acknowledged it would not have full support. This would be the fifth virus aid package, after the $2.2 trillion US bill passed in March, the largest U.S. intervention of its kind.

Des Moines Public Schools custodian Cynthia Adams cleans a desk in a classroom at Brubaker Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa on July 8. Several U.S. states have seen a rise in case numbers just as the new school year comes into view. (Charlie Neibergall/The Associated Press)

Meanwhile, school districts around the U.S. are facing a dilemma. With the number of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths still rising, districts must grapple with whether to bring students back to classrooms, and how to keep pupils and teachers safe if they do.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest public school system behind New York City, announced last week that all classes will be conducted virtually when they resume next month.

Administrators in the Parkway school district in suburban St. Louis spent the summer break crafting a flexible reopening plan, with options that include full-time classroom learning, full-time online instruction and a hybrid system.

But even with the fall semester set to begin in five weeks, the dangers of the coronavirus are so uncertain that district officials are reluctant to make predictions about how classes will proceed.

“If you had asked me even two weeks ago, ‘Do you think we would be able to come back?’ I would have said, ‘Yeah,”‘ assistant superintendent Kevin Beckner said. “Today my answer is, ‘I’m not sure,’ just because of how the situation has changed so quickly.”

WATCH | How to avoid putting students, teachers in vulnerable situations:

Our political panel discusses the best way for Canadian students to return to school in September amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 5:46

The Parkway district on Monday is scheduled to announce its plans for the fall, but it will stay ready to pivot quickly if the spread worsens or the outlook improves, Beckner said.

Signs will encourage physical distancing, and desks will be spaced farther apart. Face coverings will be required for all students, instructors and staff. Some teachers will wear masks with clear coverings so students who are deaf or hard of hearing can follow what they are saying.

Times will be scheduled for handwashing and using hand sanitizer. Plexiglas will separate librarians, office staff and teachers interacting one-on-one with students. A nurse will perform contact tracing on confirmed cases.


What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada

As of 7 a.m. ET on Monday, Canada had 110,340 coronavirus infections. Provinces and territories listed 97,051 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 8,882.

The House of Commons will meet Monday to debate legislation on extending the emergency wage subsidy and providing one-time payments to Canadians with disabilities struggling during the pandemic.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has proposed changes to the federal emergency wage subsidy that would see the program extended until the end of the year and expand eligibility for more businesses.

WATCH | Greater proportion of Canadian cases in young adults than early in pandemic:

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch says new clusters of COVID-19 popping up in Canada, especially some linked to bars and parties in Montreal, are red flags that need to be monitored to avoid further outbreaks. 2:52

Under his proposal, businesses would no longer need to show that their revenues had dropped by at least 30 per cent in order to qualify — and would receive a subsidy that varies based on how much revenue they lost.

The legislation also includes a new one-time payment aimed at helping Canadians with disabilities cover costs associated with the pandemic. Those payments were part of a bill that failed to move through the Commons in June after opposition parties did not provide the unanimous consent required to debate it.


What’s happening in the rest of the world

In Europe, where infections are far below their peak but local outbreaks are causing concern, signs emerged that leaders of northern European Union countries were willing to compromise on a 1.8 trillion euro ($2.8 trillion Cdn) coronavirus stimulus plan on Monday as talks in Brussels extended to a fourth day.

Old grievances between countries less affected by the pandemic and those that have been indebted in recent years, like Italy and Spain, have materialized. Countries such as the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark have preferred more funds be allocated through loans than through grants.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron leaves the European Council building in the early hours of Monday during the EU summit in Brussels. (Olivier Matthys/Reuters)

“An agreement is a necessity,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told French BFM TV on Monday, as weary diplomats slept or prepared for another day in what could be the longest-ever EU summit.

The leaders were set to resume talks later Monday morning.

In Britain, officials said they have signed a deal to buy 90 million doses of experimental coronavirus vaccines being developed by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and others.

The British government said in a statement Monday that it had secured access to a vaccine candidate being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, in addition to another experimental vaccine researched by Valneva. Britain had previously signed a deal with AstraZeneca to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine being tested by Oxford University, which is expected to announce further results later Monday.

WATCH | Stress, denial influencing mask decisions:

Clinical psychologist Saunia Ahmad examines the refusal by some to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite public health advice. 5:50

“Millions of people could be vaccinated against coronavirus,” the government statement said, citing the three different vaccines it has now invested in.

Although it is still unclear which if any of the vaccines will ultimately prove effective against the virus, Britain and other rich countries are already investing in the vaccines to ensure there is enough manufacturing capacity to deliver any successful candidate. Vaccines typically take years to develop and more than a dozen are in the early stages of testing globally.

A surge in coronavirus cases in the second-biggest city in Australia could take weeks to subside despite a lockdown and orders to wear masks, the country’s acting chief medical officer said on Monday.

Authorities in the state of Victoria, whose capital Melbourne is in partial lockdown amid a new outbreak, reported 275 new cases on Monday, down from a daily record of 438 three days earlier.

People wearing face masks walk through Melbourne, Australia on Monday. The state of Victoria has recorded 275 new cases of coronavirus, and another death overnight, of a woman in her 80s. Officials say it will take weeks to get the situation under control. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

“We have learned over time that the time between introducing a measure and seeing its effect is at least two weeks and sometimes longer than that,” acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

Australia has recorded about 11,800 coronavirus cases with a death toll of 123, a fraction of what has been seen in other countries. In most Australian states the disease has been effectively eliminated.

Less than a month ago, Australia was widely heralded as a global leader in combating COVID-19, but quarantine lapses in Victoria triggered a flare-up in infections in June.

Victoria’s government has ordered about five million people into a partial lockdown for six weeks and told residents around Melbourne to cover their faces if they have to leave their homes.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said it was too soon to declare that such measures had flattened the outbreak.

“Until we bring some stability to this, we won’t be able to talk about a trend,” he said, referring to the drop in daily new cases.

Hong Kong reported 73 new coronavirus cases on Monday, including 66 that were locally transmitted, as new restrictions took effect and authorities warned there was no indication that the situation was coming under control.

The global financial hub reported more than 100 cases on Sunday, a record number as Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced that non-essential civil servants must work from home.

Published at Mon, 20 Jul 2020 11:16:19 +0000

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