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As coronavirus cases near 100,000, fear of ‘devastation’ for poor

6092
By PTI Updated: Mar 06, 2020 9:22 pm
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Bangkok, March 6 (PTI/AP): The number of people infected with the new coronavirus charged toward 100,000 on Friday, with the global scare upending routines, threatening livelihoods and prompting quarantines in its spread.

Asian and European shares were down following a rough day on Wall Street and the consequences of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, were becoming clear to people around the world. Halted travel and a broader economic downturn linked to the outbreak threatened to hit already-struggling communities for months to come.

“Who is going to feed their families?” asked Elias al-Arja, the head of a hotel owners’ union in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where tourists have been banned and the storied Church of the Nativity shuttered.

The head of the UN’s food agency, the World Food Program, warned of the potential of “absolute devastation” as the outbreak’s effects ripple through Africa and the Middle East.

Across the West, there was a sense of deja vu as the virus’ spread prompted scenes that already played out in Asia, with workers foregoing offices, vigorous sanitizing in public places and runs on household basics.

Even the spectacle of a cruise ship ordered to stay at sea off the California coast over virus fears replicated ones weeks ago on the other side of the globe.

“The Western world is now following some of China’s playbook,” said Chris Beauchamp, a market analyst at the financial firm IG.

Signs of the virus’ shift away from its origins in China were becoming clearer each day.

China reported 143 new cases Friday, the same as a day earlier and about one-third what the country was seeing a week ago. Just a month ago, China was reporting several thousand new cases a day, outnumbering infections elsewhere in the world about 120 to 1. The problem has now flipped, with the outbreak moving to Europe where Italy, Germany and France had the most cases and beyond.

The second hardest-hit country, South Korea, was also registering a notable decline in new infections and the World Health Organization’s leader said he was seeing “encouraging signs” there.

South Korea reported 505 additional cases Friday, down from a high of 851 on Tuesday. The country has touted its “remarkable diagnostic and treatment abilities” but its vice health minister, Kim Gang-lip, said, “It’s not easy to make predictions about how the situation… would play out.”

Cases were increasing in Germany and France, but Italy remained the centre of Europe’s outbreak, particularly in its north. The country has had 148 fatalities, making it the deadliest site for the virus outside China.

The Italian government restricted visits to nursing homes and assisted living facilities to protect older people who have been more vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19. But with schools closed nationwide, many grandparents were called to duty as last-minute babysitters anyway.

Even Vatican City was hit by the virus, with the tiny city-state confirming its first case Friday but not saying who was infected. The Vatican has insisted Pope Francis, who has been sick, only has a cold.

The Vatican said it is working with Italian authorities to keep the coronavirus from spreading, with a suspension of Pope Francis’ weekly audiences seen likely.

Iran’s government planned to set up checkpoints to limit travel and urged people to stop using paper money as the country has counted more than 3,500 cases and at least 107 deaths.

And in the United States, more than 230 cases were stirring anxiety around the country, nowhere more than its northwestern corner in Washington state, where officials are so concerned about having space to care for the sick they were expected to close a USD 4 million deal Friday to take over a roadside motel.

Trump signs $8.3B bill to combat coronavirus outbreak in US

President Donald Trump on Friday signed a USD 8.3 billion measure to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 12 people in the US and infected more than 200.

The legislation provides federal public health agencies with money for vaccines, tests and potential treatments and helps state and local governments prepare and respond to the threat.

The rapid spread of the virus has rocked financial markets, interrupted travel and threatens to affect everyday life in the United States.

Trump had planned to sign the bill during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. But he told reporters Friday that concerns were raised about “one person who was potentially infected” who worked at the CDC. Trump said the person has since tested negative for the new virus and that he still hopes to visit the agency at some point.

The Senate passed the USD 8.3 billion measure Thursday to help tackle the outbreak in hopes of reassuring a fearful public and accelerating the government’s response to the virus. Its rapid spread is threatening to upend everyday life in the US and across the globe.

The money would pay for a multifaceted attack on a virus that is spreading more widely every day, sending financial markets spiralling again Thursday, disrupting travel and potentially threatening the US economy’s decade-long expansion.

Thursday’s sweeping 96-1 vote sends the bill to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., cast the sole no vote. The House passed the bill Wednesday by a 415-2 vote.

The plan would more than triple the USD 2.5 billion amount outlined by the White House 10 days ago. The Trump proposal was immediately discarded by members of Congress from both parties.

Instead, the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations committees negotiated the increased figure and other provisions of the legislation in a burst of bipartisan cooperation that’s common on the panel but increasingly rare elsewhere in Washington.

“In situations like this, I believe no expense should be spared to protect the American people, and in crafting this package none was,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

“It’s an aggressive plan, a vigorous plan that has received an overwhelmingly positive reaction.” Trump was sure to sign the measure, which has almost universal support. It is intended to project confidence and calm as anxiety builds over the impact of the virus, which has claimed 12 lives in the US.

“The American people are looking for leadership and want assurance that their government is up to the task of protecting their health and safety,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

The impact of the outbreak continues to mount. The British government is considering suspending Parliament for five months in hope of limiting the spread of the virus in the United Kingdom.

The legislation would provide federal public health agencies money for vaccines, tests and potential treatments, including USD 300 million to deliver such drugs to those who need it. More than USD 2 billion would go to help federal, state and local governments prepare for and respond to the coronavirus threat.

An additional USD 1.3 billion would be used to help fight the virus overseas. There’s also funding to subsidize USD 7 billion in small business loans.

Other dollars would be directed to help local officials prepare for the potential worsening of the outbreak and subsidize treatment by community health centres.

Medicare rules would be loosened to enable remote “telehealth” consultations whereby sick people could to get treatment without visiting a doctor.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., whose state is at the center of the crisis, praised the bill because it “will increase access for public lab testing, help pay for isolation and quarantine, help pay for sanitising in public areas, better track the virus and those who might come into contact with it, help labs who are trying to identify hot spots, and limit exposure.”

The legislation contains a hard-won compromise that aims to protect against potential price gouging by drug manufacturers for vaccines and other medicines developed with taxpayer funds.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar would have the power to make sure commercial prices are reasonable. Azar is a former drug industry lobbyist.

Democrats said other steps may be needed if the outbreak continues to worsen.

“This may be the first step because we have issues that relate to unemployment insurance for people who are put out of work,” Pelosi said as she signed the bill to send it to Trump.

“We have only about 27 per cent of people in this country who have paid sick days. So if they have to go home what is going to happen to them and their families?” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

DeLauro said Pence responded that he would raise the issue with the president.

The bill seeks to restore USD 136 million that the Department of Health and Human Services cut from other accounts such as heating subsidies for the poor to battle the virus.

The legislation comes as carping over the administration’s response to the outbreak is quieting down. Lawmakers in both parties had faulted a shortage of tests for the virus and contrasting messages from Trump and his subordinates.

6092
By PTI Updated: Mar 06, 2020 9:22:36 pm