Pentagon orders halt to overseas movement for US military
US death toll rises to 1,000, cases near 70,000
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Defense Secretary Mark Esper has issued a stop movement order to the U.S. military, halting travel and movement abroad for up to 60 days in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus through the ranks, the Pentagon chief told Reuters, Wednesday.
The measure is by far the Defense Department’s most sweeping to date and will affect forces around the world.
Esper said in an interview that the order applied to all U.S. troops, civilian personnel and families, but noted that there would be some exceptions.
“The purpose is to make sure that we’re not bringing the virus back home, infecting others, that we’re not spreading it around the military,” Esper said.
Esper said one exception to the order would be the drawdown under way in Afghanistan, which will continue.
The United States has said it is committed to reducing the number of its troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 from 13,000 within 135 days of signing the deal with the Taliban last month.
A full withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition forces would occur within 14 months of the deal getting signed, if the Taliban holds up its end of the deal.
“That (stop movement order) should not impact that,” Esper said of the withdrawal.
The stop movement order illustrates the Pentagon’s increasing concern about the rapid spread of the virus, which has already infected 227 U.S. troops — a figure that has climbed by about 30 percent in just the past day.
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the nation’s largest-ever rescue package late Wednesday, a $2 trillion lifeline to suffering Americans, critically depleted hospitals and an economy all ravaged by a rapidly spreading coronavirus crisis.
The measure cleared the Senate 96-0 after days of tumultuous, sometimes bitter negotiations and debate, as the U.S. death toll for the pandemic soared past 1,000, with 68,000 confirmed infections.
Outbreaks have grown nationwide, but with particular fear that New York could be the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Let us tell them tonight that help is on the way, that they are not truly alone, that this country, that this Senate, that this government is here for them in a time of dire need,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said moments before the vote.
“Let us marshal this government into action.” The measure now heads to the House of Representatives, where a Democratic leader said he expected it to pass by voice vote Friday before it goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.
The monster package, thrashed out between Republicans, Democrats and the White House, provides direct cash payments to millions of hurting American taxpayers, amounting to $3,400 for an average American family of four.
It provides some $500 billion in grants and loans to small businesses and core industries, including as much as $50 billion for strained airlines and their employees.
It also surges $100 billion of desperately needed resources for hospitals and other health facilities in dire need of medical equipment, and dramatically expands unemployment benefits to help workers sickened by coronavirus or laid off during the crisis.
The United States has the third-highest number of infections globally behind China and Italy. About half are in New York state.
“We still have the trajectory going up,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, adding that about 12 percent of the people who test positive require hospitalization.
Cuomo said health officials anticipate about 120,000 coronavirus patients coming into New York’s hospitals, which have a capacity of 50,000 beds.
The state has around 30,000 confirmed cases, he added, with 285 deaths.
But the governor pointed to evidence suggesting New York’s strict stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures have slowed the hospitalization rate.
“The arrows are headed in the right direction,” Cuomo told reporters.
The intensity of the crisis caught the Trump administration by surprise, and by Wednesday Trump and his top lieutenants were demanding the Senate quicken the pace and pass the legislation.
“We need to get this money into the American economy and (to) American workers,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
Over half the U.S. population is now under some form of lockdown as authorities nationwide seek to stem the outbreaks.
Birmingham, Alabama and Charlotte, North Carolina have become the latest major U.S. cities to order residents to stay indoors.
Wall Street stocks closed mixed Wednesday as the markets awaited a vote on the rescue package, the third of its kind in the past month, but by far the largest.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has hailed the “wartime level of investment” in the nation.
It dwarfs the bailouts of 2008, when a worldwide financial crisis sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin.
With infections rising, the Senate bill’s injection for hospitals could be among the bill’s most effective element in fighting the pandemic, as it will help facilities restock protective gear, intensive care beds and ventilators and other medical equipment.
Workers and members of the National Guard build a makeshift morgue outside of Bellevue Hospital in New York City, Wednesday.