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Coronavirus live updates: Congress ‘very close’ to stimulus deal

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vchal/iStock(NEW YORK) — Over 1.5 billion people across the globe — more than one-fifth of the world’s population — have been ordered or urged to stay home amid a deadly pandemic of the novel coronavirus, which the World Health Organization has warned “is accelerating.”

The new respiratory virus, known officially as COVID-19, has killed at least 16,767 people worldwide since emerging in the Chinese city of Wuhan back in December. There are more than 387,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 spanning across every continent except Antartica, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

With more than 46,000 diagnosed cases, the United States has the third-highest national total behind Italy and China. The virus has spread to every U.S. state as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, claiming the lives of at least 593 people.

Here’s how the news is developing Tuesday. All times Eastern:

7:44 a.m. FEMA ‘absolutely ready’ to use Defense Production Act

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor said Tuesday the agency is “absolutely ready” to use the Defense Production Act, as health care workers across the nation sound the alarm over dwindling supplies needed in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week invoking the 1950 wartime law, which requires private companies to prioritize any product orders from the federal government over others. But the government has apparently yet to make any orders for medical supplies, such as personal protective equipment.

“We just want to be careful that we don’t do anything to put it out of balance and counter some other positive efforts that we see,” Gaynor told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview Tuesday on Good Morning America.

“We will use it, I have no doubt about it,” Gaynor added. “But right now we’re focused on getting those critical items to those states most in need. What I say to all governors out there, if you find a source, go buy it. FEMA will reimburse you.”

Stephanopoulos argued that governors are actually calling on the federal government to use the Defense Production Act now because states are competing with each other for supplies. Gaynor said they are “ready to take action on all of that” but are also “trying to keep the system in balance.”

“We don’t want the federal government scooping up everything,” Gaynor added. “We want to make sure that there’s enough capacity that governors and mayors around the country can order on their own, so it’s a delicate balance.”

“What the governors are saying is that the federal government should scoop it up and distribute it to the states,” Stephanopoulos responded, “and by forcing them to compete with each other, it’s driving the price and hurting their ability to get what they need.”
 
“We’re trying to identify sources around the globe. If it’s in China, we’re ready to fly it back to the United States today,” Gaynor said. “Again, we’re focused on making sure that those governors that are most critical in need, no matter where it comes from, the federal government or another source directly, we are enabling that today.”

7:28 a.m. Spain reports over 500 deaths in past 24 hours

Spain’s health ministry on Tuesday reported 514 deaths from the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours.

The country’s death toll from the COVID-19 virus is now at 2,696. Spain has the third-highest number of recorded deaths in the outbreak, following China and Italy.

With nearly 40,000 diagnosed cases, Spain is behind the United States and Italy in the highest national total outside China.

6:14 a.m. U.S. Senate on the cusp of a stimulus deal

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said they are “very close” to an agreement on a massive stimulus package to save the national economy from the detrimental impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

After emerging from a series of late-night meetings on Capitol Hill, Mnuchin and Schumer told reporters around midnight that they hope to come to a final agreement on the nearly $2 trillion economic rescue package by Tuesday morning.

“We expect to have an agreement tomorrow morning,” Schumer said. “We still have a few little differences, but neither one of us expect it will get in the way of a final agreement. Secretary Mnuchin called the president and he told them we were very, very close to the agreement.”

Schumer said the Senate will “hopefully” vote on the legislation Tuesday evening.

Mnuchin told reporters he had spoken with U.S. President Donald Trump a number of times, updating him on the progress.

“Today we’ve been working incredibly hard, both sides have been working around the clock,” Mnuchin said. “There are still documents that are going to be reviewed tonight and turned around, there’s still a couple of open issues, but I think we’re very hopeful that this can be closed out tomorrow.”

5:37 a.m. Thailand decrees state of emergency to control coronavirus

Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced Tuesday that his cabinet has agreed to declare a state of emergency to implement stricter measures to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The one-month state of emergency, which takes effect Thursday, will give Thailand’s government enforcement powers that otherwise wouldn’t be available.

There were just under 900 diagnosed cases of the virus in the Southeast Asian country as of Tuesday afternoon local time.

5:10 a.m. Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Finnish president tests positive

Martti Ahtisaari, a Nobel laureate and former Finnish president, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The office of Finland’s current president, Saul Niinisto, said in a press release Tuesday that Ahtisaari, 82, was diagnosed with the virus on Monday and that he was “doing well under the circumstances.” His wife also tested positive just three days earlier.

Ahtisaari, a United Nations diplomat and mediator who was awarded the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve international conflicts, served as Finland’s head of state for one six-year term from 1994 until 2000.

3:43 a.m. Hawaii governor issues statewide stay-at-home order

Hawaii residents will soon join the millions of other Americans who are being ordered to stay home amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed a proclamation on Monday night, ordering the entire state to stay at home and work from home, starting Wednesday after midnight and lasting through the end of April. Essential workers are exempt.

“The threat of COVID-19 is unprecedented and requires aggressive action,” Ige said in a statement. “I have been in discussions with our county mayors who are developing their own plans to meet the unique needs of their counties. We also agree that a statewide order is necessary for cohesion and consistency.”

Residents can leave their homes for various needs, including to seek healthcare, purchase food, take care of the elderly, minors and those with disabilities, and to exercise outdoors.

Those who do not comply with the order could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or a jail sentence of up to one year behind bars, or both.

At least 21 U.S. states have implemented or announced statewide closures of non-essential businesses.

2:52 a.m. China to lift lockdown on Wuhan on April 8

Chinese authorities plan to lift the draconian travel restrictions imposed on the city of Wuhan next month.

The city, in China’s central Hubei province, was placed under lockdown on Jan. 23 as thousands of residents became infected with the novel coronavirus before it spread to other parts of the world.

The Hubei provincial government announced Tuesday that those control measures will be lifted on April 8 and cleared residents will finally be allowed to leave the city. Those who wish to enter the city will also need clearance, according to a statement from the provincial government.

Officials have already begun to slowly relax some of the strict measures put in place in Wuhan. Road checkpoints are being removed and some private vehicles have returned to the streets. The city’s subway system remains shut down but has begun trial runs as workers disinfect the subway trains and stations in preparation for the restoration of public transport.

After several consecutive days without any local transmission of the virus, Wuhan reported one new case of confirmed infection on Monday, according to China’s National Health Commission.

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