US deaths top 1,000 as senate unanimously passes $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package

Worldwide, the death toll climbed past 21,297. The number of dead in the US rose to 1,041 as of March 25, with nearly 70,000 infections


                            US deaths top 1,000 as senate unanimously passes $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package
(AP Photo)

NEW YORK:  US deaths from the coronavirus pandemic have topped 1,000, in another grim milestone for a global outbreak that is taking lives and wreaking havoc on economies and established routines of ordinary life.

In a recognition of the scale of the threat, the US Senate late on March 25 passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems.

The unanimous vote came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced. The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in US history. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared somber and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.

“Pray for one another, for all of our families, and for our country," said McConnell, R-Ky. “The legislation now before us now is historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis,"said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “Our health care system is not prepared to care for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt."

The package is intended as relief for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that's killed more than 21,000 people worldwide. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid would keep the economy afloat, said: “We’ve anticipated three months. Hopefully, we won’t need this for three months."

Underscoring the effort's sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion-plus annual federal budget. The $2.2 trillion estimate is the White House's best guess.

Worldwide, the death toll climbed past 21,297. The number of dead in the US rose to 1,041 as of March 25, with nearly 70,000 infections.

Spain's death toll has risen past 3,400, eclipsing that of China where the virus was first detected in December, after a one-day spike of 700 fatalities. Spain's count is now second only to that of Italy, with over 7,500 deaths. Lidia Perera, a nurse at Madrid's 1,000-bed Hospital de la Paz, said more workers were desperately needed. “We are collapsing," Perera said.

The Spanish parliament voted to allow the government extend strict stay-at-home rules and business closings until April 11. Such measures are becoming increasingly common in the US, where New York is the current epicenter of the domestic outbreak, accounting for more than 30,000 cases and close to 300 deaths, most of them in New York City.

Public health officials in the city hunted down beds and medical equipment and put out a call for more doctors and nurses for fear the number of sick will explode in a matter of weeks, overwhelming hospitals as has happened in Italy and Spain.

A makeshift morgue was set up outside Bellevue Hospital, and the city's police, their ranks dwindling as more fall ill, were told to patrol nearly empty streets to enforce social distancing.

In Washington, President Donald Trump has 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.

Yet, he's also grumbled that “our country wasn’t built to be shut down” and vowed not to allow "the cure be worse than the problem” — apparently concerned that the the outbreak's devastating effects on financial markets and employment will harm his chances for re-election later this year.

“The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success,” Trump tweeted on March 25.

Democrats say that Trump was prioritizing the economy over the health and safety of Americans.

"I’d like to say, let’s get back to work next Friday,” said Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. "That’d be wonderful. But it can’t be arbitrary.”
Biden said the congressional aid package addressing the outbreak “goes a long way,” but that “meticulous oversight” is required.

“We’re going to need to make sure the money gets out quickly into peoples' pockets and to keep a close watch on how corporations are using the taxpayers funds that they receive, to make sure it goes to help workers, not rich CEOs or shareholders,” the former vice president said.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has also called to reopen schools and businesses, dismissing his argument that the “cure” of widespread shutdowns to contain the spread of the coronavirus is worse than the disease.

Bolsonaro contends that a clampdown already ordered by many governors will deeply wound the beleaguered economy and spark social unrest. In a nationally televised address on March 24, he urged governors to limit isolation only to high-risk people and lift the strict anti-virus measures they have imposed in their regions.

The country's governors protested on March 25 that his instructions run counter to health experts' recommendations and endanger Latin America’s largest population. They said they would continue with their strict measures in place. The rebellion even included traditional allies of Brazil's far-right president.

Meanwhile, the governor of a state in central Mexico said the poor are “immune” to the coronavirus pandemic, even as the federal government suspended all non-essential government activities in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.

Puebla Gov. Miguel Barbosa's comment on March 25 was apparently partly a response to statistics showing that the wealthy who travel much more have made up a significant percentage of Mexicans infected to date, including some prominent businessmen. The country has seen six deaths so far.

“The majority are wealthy people. If you are rich, you are at risk. If you are poor, no," Barbosa said. "We poor people, we are immune.”

Barbosa also appeared to be playing on an old stereotype held by some Mexicans that poor sanitation standards may have strengthened their immune systems by exposing them to bacteria or other bugs.