Coronavirus Live Updates: Officials Meet on Capitol Hill After $600-a-Week Lifeline for Jobless Expires

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Credit…Chad Rhym for The New York Times

Top officials work to break impasse over jobless benefit that helped keep afloat millions of unemployed Americans.

Hours after unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans lapsed, administration officials arrived on Capitol Hill on Saturday morning for a rare meeting with top congressional Democrats to discuss a coronavirus relief package and work to break an impasse over new aid as the American economy continues to shudder.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who hosted the meeting with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York in her Capitol Hill suite, said she hoped that “we’ll make progress and I think we will.” She again dismissed the prospect of a short-term deal, which administration officials have pushed this week.

“We’re just hopeful that they’re willing to really negotiate today and if they are, we’re prepared to make a deal on behalf of the American people,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said as he entered Ms. Pelosi’s office with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary. (Mr. Mnuchin observed it was “just another working day in the Capitol.”)

Among the largest sticking points in the discussion is a $600 weekly federal jobless benefit that became a lifeline for tens of millions of unemployed Americans, while also helping prop up the economy. The aid expired at midnight as officials in Washington failed to agree on a new relief bill.

Joblessness remains at record levels, with some 30 million Americans receiving unemployment benefits. More than 1.4 million newly filed for state unemployment benefits last week — the 19th straight week that the tally had exceeded one million, an unheard-of figure before the pandemic.

Nearly 11 percent of Americans have said that they live in households where there is not enough to eat, according to a recent Census Bureau survey, and more than a quarter have missed a rent or mortgage payment.

The benefit’s expiration will force Louise Francis, who worked as a banquet cook at the Sheraton Hotel in New Orleans for nearly two decades before being furloughed last spring, to get by on just state unemployment benefits, which for her come to $247 a week.

“With the $600, you could see your way a little bit,” said Ms. Francis, 59. “You could feel a little more comfortable. You could pay three or four bills and not feel so far behind.”

The aid lapsed as Republicans and Democrats in Washington remained far apart on what the next round of virus relief should look like.

Democrats wanted to extend the $600 weekly payments through the end of the year, as part of an expansive $3 trillion aid package that would also help state and local governments. Republicans, worried that the $600 benefit left some people with more money than when they were working, sought to scale it back to $200 per week as part of a $1 trillion proposal.

At a White House news conference on Friday, Mark Meadows, President Trump’s chief of staff, accused Democrats of playing “politics as usual.” At the Capitol, Ms. Pelosi said administration officials “do not understand the gravity of the situation.”

As the deadline neared, Republicans proposed continuing the $600 benefit for one week while talks continued. Democrats rejected the short-term extension.

“When you have a six-day, one-week extension on a provision, it is usually — has always been — to accommodate a legislative topic if you’re on the verge of having an agreement,” Ms. Pelosi said. “Why don’t we just get the job done? Why don’t we just get the job done?”

Three key developments in the U.S. on Friday that you may have missed.

  • California became the first state to report more than 500,000 cases of the coronavirus, according to a New York Times database, though both infections and deaths there remain lower than in many other states in per capita terms. California officials also reported 213 deaths on Friday, a single-day record. Florida, Idaho and Mississippi also reported their highest daily death totals of the pandemic.

  • The Trump administration’s virus testing czar, Adm. Brett P. Giroir, told lawmakers at a House hearing that getting all results back in between 48 and 72 hours, which many health officials have said is critical, “is not a possible benchmark we can achieve today.” It would be achievable in the future, he said, adding that the average wait time was already around three days or less — an assessment sharply at odds with that of many health professionals. Read more about the testimony.

  • The French drug maker Sanofi said it had secured an agreement of up to $2.1 billion to supply the U.S. federal government with 100 million doses of its experimental vaccine, the largest such deal announced to date. The arrangement with Sanofi and its British partner, GlaxoSmithKline, brings the Trump administration’s investment in vaccine projects to more than $8 billion. Read more about the latest deal.

Global roundup

South Korea arrests the leader of a church where the virus spread rapidly.

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Credit…Pool photo

The leader of a secretive religious sect in South Korea was arrested early on Saturday on charges of embezzling church money and conspiring to impede efforts to fight the coronavirus.

The rapid spread of the virus this winter among worshipers of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, a city in the southeast, briefly made South Korea home to the world’s largest coronavirus outbreak outside China. As of Friday, more than a third of the 14,300 coronavirus cases known to the government were members of Shincheonji or their contacts.

Prosecutors say that Lee Man-hee, the church’s founder, failed to fully disclose the number of worshipers and their gathering places. Seven church officials were indicted last month on the same charge.

Mr. Lee, 88, has also been accused of embezzling 5.6 billion won, or $4.7 million, from church funds to build a luxurious “peace palace” north of Seoul. The church has broadly denied all the charges against him. He could face years in prison if convicted.

Intense criticism from the South Korean public forced Mr. Lee to apologize in March.

In a statement on Saturday, the church said that Mr. Lee had never intended to hamper efforts to control the epidemic, and that he had only expressed concern over the scale of government demands for worshipers’ data.

“He has emphasized the importance of disease control and urged the church members to cooperate with the authorities,” the church said. “We will do our best to let the truth be known through trial.”

But parents who accused the church of luring and brainwashing their children with its unorthodox teachings welcomed his arrest on Saturday, calling Mr. Lee a “religious con artist.”

Here are some other developments from around the globe:

  • Kuwait on Saturday began to resume some commercial flights after a five-month suspension. It announced that flights would remain suspended from 31 countries, including India, China and Brazil. Flights are also still barred from some countries that were once major hot spots, such as Spain and Italy, but not the United States, which remains a global epicenter. Kuwait, with its relatively small population, has one of the highest infection rates in the world. Its 1,618 cases per 100,000 people is the sixth highest globally, according to a New York Times database.

  • As of Saturday morning, Mexico’s confirmed death toll of 46,688 was the world’s third highest behind the United States and Brazil. Britain ranked fourth, with 569 fewer deaths. The number of new reported infections in Mexico has been climbing since May and topped 8,000 on Friday, bringing the country’s caseload to nearly 425,000.

  • An outbreak of the coronavirus in Vietnam claimed a third victim on Saturday, a 68-year-old in the central city of Danang who also had late-stage leukemia. The country, which reported its first virus death on Friday, went more than three months without a case of local transmission before the new outbreak began spreading from Danang in late July. It now has 558 cases, although many are returnees in quarantine.

  • On Saturday, Japan announced 1,579 new cases, breaking a record set the day before. The country now has more than 1,000 deaths related to the coronavirus, reporting 1,011 on Saturday.

  • The main physicians’ organization in the Philippines, the College of Physicians, appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday to lock down the Manila metropolitan area for two weeks. The appeal was made shortly after two Manila hospitals were closed temporarily because so many staff members were infected. On Friday, the country reported 4,063 new cases, its highest daily total so far.

A school opened in Indiana. It had to quarantine people within hours.

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Credit…AJ Mast for The New York Times

One of the first school districts in the United States to reopen did not even make it a day before it had grapple with the issue facing everyone trying to get students back into classrooms: What happens when someone comes to school infected with the coronavirus?

Hours into classes on Thursday, a call from the county health department notified Greenfield Central Junior High School in Indiana that a student had tested positive.

Administrators began an emergency protocol, isolating the student and ordering everyone who had come into close contact with the person, including other students, to quarantine for 14 days. It is unclear whether anyone else got infected.

“We knew it was a when, not if,” said Harold E. Olin, superintendent of the Greenfield-Central Community School Corporation, but he was “very shocked it was on Day 1.”

Hundreds of school districts across the country have reversed course on reopening plans in recent weeks in response to rises in infections. Of the nation’s 25 largest school districts, all but six have announced they will start remotely. Despite strong objections from teachers’ unions, some in places like Florida and Texas are hoping to open classrooms after a few weeks if infection rates fall.

Florida, already reeling from the virus, faces a new threat from Hurricane Isaias.

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Credit…Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Florida’s Atlantic coast braced for the arrival of Hurricane Isaias on Saturday after the storm raked parts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and has begun to batter the Bahamas.

Preparations for the storm were complicated by the state’s battle with the coronavirus, which could make evacuating homes and entering community shelters especially risky. Friday was the third consecutive day that Florida set its record for the most deaths reported in a single day, according to a New York Times database.

Mr. DeSantis has said that the division of emergency management had been working at its most active level since March, “allowing them to actively plan for hurricane season even while responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Early in the pandemic, he added, the division created a reserve of protective equipment for hurricane season, including 20 million masks, 22 million gloves and 1.6 million face shields.

A hurricane watch was in effect early Saturday morning from Hallandale Beach to south of Boca Raton, and a hurricane warning from Boca Raton to Brevard County. There could be storm surges up to four feet high.

The storm is then expected to weaken and be off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina on Monday.

Mr. DeSantis said on Saturday that he had declared a state of emergency in every coastal county up the state’s east coast, including Miami-Dade County, which has been among the hardest hit in terms of new cases of the coronavirus per capita, as well as deaths.

Mr. DeSantis said he had also received approval for federal assistance through FEMA from President Trump.

A wealthy Indian family is betting big on a coronavirus vaccine.

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Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

The Serum Institute, which started out years ago as a horse farm and is exclusively controlled by a small and fabulously rich Indian family, is doing what few other companies in the race for a vaccine are doing: mass-producing hundreds of millions of doses of a vaccine candidate that might not even work.

But if it does, Adar Poonawalla, Serum’s chief executive and the only child of the company’s founder, will become one of the most tugged-at men in the world. He will have what everyone wants, possibly in greater quantities before anyone else.

Mr. Poonawalla’s vaccine assembly lines are being readied to crank out 500 doses a minute, and his phone rings endlessly.

National health ministers, prime ministers and other heads of state (he wouldn’t say who) and friends he hasn’t heard from in years have been calling him, he said, begging for the first batches.

“I’ve had to explain to them that, ‘Look I can’t just give it to you like this,’” he said.

The Serum Institute finds itself in the middle of an extremely competitive and murky endeavor. To get the vaccine out as soon as possible, vaccine developers say they need Serum’s mammoth assembly lines — each year, it churns out 1.5 billion doses of other vaccines, mostly for poor countries, more than any other company.

Half of the world’s children have been vaccinated with Serum’s products. Scale is its specialty. Just the other day, Mr. Poonawalla received a shipment of 600 million glass vials.

But right now it’s not entirely clear how much of the coronavirus vaccine that Serum will mass-produce will be kept by India or who will fund its production.

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European stocks gain a sudden allure as the region pins down the virus better than most places.

Europe has a bad reputation with investors. For years, asset managers and bank strategists have characterized the region by its anemic growth rate and shaky political union.

Now a crisis has turned into an unlikely investment opportunity, as the region appears to have handled the pandemic better than some other parts of the world. In the past few months, European assets have staged a comeback.

The euro this week rose to its highest level in more than two years against the U.S. dollar, and the region’s benchmark index, the Stoxx 600, is set for a second straight month of gains greater than those of the S&P 500 index, in dollar terms, according to data from FactSet.

The most important reason for this upswing, analysts say, is that Europe is recording far fewer new cases of the coronavirus. There are still occasional spikes in Europe, and there are some early signs that the infection rate is starting to level off in the United States. But there are about 65,000 new cases each day in the United States, compared with fewer than 10,000 across the Atlantic.

Another significant reason for the increase is politics. When European leaders reached an agreement last week on a 750 billion euro, or $888 billion, recovery fund, it wasn’t the size of the deal that impressed investors, but the fact that it happened after four long nights of negotiations.

The decision to raise money collectively and give grants to the countries hit hardest by the pandemic indicated that there is some political will left to further the project that created the euro two decades ago, despite the exit of Britain from the European Union, budget fights with Italy and concerns about the dismantling of democracy in Hungary.

Reporting was contributed by Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Johnny Diaz, Jeffrey Gettleman, Jason Gutierrez, Shawn Hubler, Mike Ives, Zach Montague, Liliana Michelena, Eshe Nelson, Matt Phillips, Kai Schultz and Eliza Shapiro.

Source: nytimes.com

Tags: health

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