$2.2 tril­lion res­cue fund passed by US Se­nate

China Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By BELINDA ROBIN­SON in New York and CHEN WEIHUA in Brus­sels

In a recog­ni­tion of the scale of the novel coro­n­avirus pneu­mo­nia threat, the US Se­nate on Wed­nes­day passed a his­toric $2.2 tril­lion eco­nomic res­cue pack­age steer­ing aid to busi­nesses, work­ers and health­care sys­tems, as the out­break in the United States has in­fected nearly 70,000 peo­ple and the num­ber of deaths topped 1,050 on Wed­nes­day.

The 880-page mea­sure is the largest eco­nomic re­lief bill in US his­tory. The leg­is­la­tion in­cludes di­rect pay­ments to in­di­vid­u­als, stronger un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, loans and grants to busi­nesses and more health­care re­sources for hos­pi­tals, states and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

In Wash­ing­ton, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Wed­nes­day called for Amer­i­cans to ded­i­cate them­selves for 15 days to so­cial dis­tanc­ing, in­clud­ing staying home from work and clos­ing bars and restau­rants to help try to stall the spread of the dis­ease.

So­cial dis­tanc­ing guide­lines is­sued by the US govern­ment ear­lier this month will ex­pire next week. Trump said he fore­sees a rapid re­cov­ery and “packed churches all over our coun­try” on Easter, he told Fox News on Tuesday. “I’m not sure that’s go­ing to be the day, but I will love to aim it right at Easter Sun­day,” he said.

He also said, “Our coun­try wasn’t built to be shut down,” and vowed not to let “the cure be worse than the prob­lem” — ap­par­ently con­cerned about the out­break’s ef­fects on fi­nan­cial mar­kets and em­ploy­ment.

Health ex­perts crit­i­cized the re­marks, say­ing Trump was pri­or­i­tiz­ing the econ­omy over the health and safety of the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

Epi­demi­ol­o­gists and med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als point to what they say is over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence from around the world that so­cial dis­tanc­ing and clos­ing busi­nesses are ef­fec­tive and must con­tinue longer than two weeks.

“I think (so­cial dis­tanc­ing and peo­ple staying home) is work­ing,” Dr Wil­liam Schaffner, pro­fes­sor of pre­ven­tive medicine and infectious dis­eases at Van­der­bilt Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Nashville, Ten­nessee, said, ad­ding that open­ing the coun­try by Easter is “op­ti­mistic”.

“The next two to three weeks will tell the tale be­cause it will be dur­ing that pe­riod of time that the ef­fects of so­cial dis­tanc­ing will re­ally be seen,” he said. “The virus will tell us when we’re ready to open. That said, we are a very large coun­try, and quite di­verse, so parts of the coun­try may be ready to do that — other parts might not be ready.”

At least 17 US states have or­dered “nonessen­tial” work­ers to stay at home, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia, Illi­nois, Louisiana, Ohio, Ore­gon, Michi­gan, New Mex­ico, New York, Wash­ing­ton and Wis­con­sin. Some cities have in­sti­tuted stay-at-home or­ders, in­clud­ing Atlanta, Ge­or­gia; Den­ver, Colorado; and San An­to­nio, Texas, as have some coun­ties in Texas.

“To be a week into these re­stric­tions and al­ready be talk­ing about aban­don­ing them is ir­re­spon­si­ble and dan­ger­ous,” Tom In­glesby, direc­tor of the Johns Hop­kins Cen­ter for Health Se­cu­rity in Bal­ti­more, Mary­land, told The Wash­ing­ton Post.

On Wed­nes­day, World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion Direc­tor-Gen­eral Te­dros Ad­hanom Ghe­breye­sus re­it­er­ated that ask­ing peo­ple to stay at home and shut­ting down pop­u­la­tion move­ment is buy­ing time and re­duc­ing the pres­sure on health sys­tems, but the mea­sures on their own will not ex­tin­guish epi­demics.

He listed mea­sures that coun­tries should take dur­ing the sec­ond win­dow of op­por­tu­nity, such as ex­pand­ing, train­ing and de­ploy­ing health­care and pub­lic health em­ploy­ees; im­ple­ment­ing a sys­tem to find ev­ery sus­pected case at com­mu­nity level; ramp­ing up the pro­duc­tion, ca­pac­ity and avail­abil­ity of test­ing; iden­ti­fy­ing, adapting and equip­ping fa­cil­i­ties to treat and iso­late pa­tients; de­vel­op­ing a clear plan and process to quar­an­tine con­tacts; and re­fo­cus­ing the whole of govern­ment on sup­press­ing and con­trol­ling COVID-19.

“These mea­sures are the best way to sup­press and stop trans­mis­sion, so that when re­stric­tions are lifted, the coro­n­avirus doesn’t resurge,” Te­dros said.

The world has over­come many pan­demics and crises be­fore and will over­come this one, too, Te­dros said, ad­ding: “The ques­tion is how large a price we will pay.”

Te­dros said how many more lives will be lost will be de­ter­mined by the de­ci­sions peo­ple make and the ac­tions they take. He ac­knowl­edged that the un­prece­dented mea­sures taken by many coun­tries have come at sig­nif­i­cant so­cial and eco­nomic costs, such as clos­ing schools and busi­nesses, can­cel­ing sport­ing events and ask­ing peo­ple to stay at home.

Some coun­tries are now try­ing to as­sess when and how they will be able to ease these mea­sures. “The an­swer de­pends on what coun­tries do while these pop­u­la­tion­wide mea­sures are in place,” he said. “We call on all coun­tries that have in­tro­duced so-called lock­down mea­sures to use this time to at­tack the coro­n­avirus. You have cre­ated a sec­ond win­dow of op­por­tu­nity.”

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