The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic around the U.S. and the world. 

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asked congressional leaders Tuesday to swiftly commit another $250 billion to replenish the new $349 billion small-business coronavirus program, which is being overwhelmed by surging demand.

President Trump said banks have processed $70 billion in taxpayer-backed loans for 250,000 small businesses since Friday, as companies seek emergency help to deal with the enormous business disruption caused by the pandemic. He did not say, though, how many of those loans have been approved or how many firms have received any of the money. And his data suggest the program has so far reached only a small fraction of U.S. companies.

Republicans will try to advance the matter through Congress immediately. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hoped to pass the cash infusion through the Senate on Thursday. The program allows companies with fewer than 500 employees to seek taxpayer-backed loans from banks. The loans are forgivable if the companies meet certain worker-retention metrics, among other things. The federal government would then reimburse the banks for making the loans.

Democrats haven’t rejected the White House request but have said they want to include other emergency aid, such as hazard pay for workers, as part of any new deal.

Read the full story about aid for small businesses here.

Truckers warn supply chain in jeopardy if they don’t get better protection

America’s supply chain could be in jeopardy if the government doesn’t act swiftly to help protect the country’s truckers, some industry officials and drivers are warning.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues its devastation across the U.S., they say, truckers are hauling into COVID-19 hot spots every day with no protective equipment, testing capabilities or ways to self-quarantine or seek treatment if they get sick.

“HELP – MAYDAY – 9-1-1,” are the words in all caps across the top of a letter the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sent to President Trump on Friday.

“Urgent and immediate action is demanded to safeguard our nation’s supply chain,” said the letter, signed by Todd Spencer, president and CEO of the organization.

Truckers are exposed to COVID-19 because of the critical service they provide, Spencer said.

“They run in and out of the hot zones and without question they are exposed,” he said. “They don’t have access to PPE or any practical means to know when they may be falling ill or any practical solution if they need treatment or self-isolation.”

Read the full story about the trucking industry’s warning here.

Wisconsin voters wait hours at state’s few open polling stations

Thousands of Wisconsin voters waited for hours in long lines outside overcrowded polling stations on Tuesday, ignoring federal health recommendations so they could participate in a presidential primary election that tested the limits of electoral politics in the midst of a pandemic.

Thousands more stayed home, unwilling to risk their health during a statewide stay-at-home order, but complained that the absentee ballots they had requested were still missing.

The chaos underscored the extent to which the coronavirus outbreak has upended politics. As the first state to hold a presidential primary contest in three weeks, Wisconsin became a test case for dozens of states that are struggling to balance public health concerns with voting rights.

Joe Biden hopes the state will help deliver a knockout blow to Bernie Sanders in the nomination fight, but the winner of Tuesday’s contest may be less significant than Wisconsin’s decision to allow voting at all. Its ability to host an election during a growing pandemic could have significant implications for upcoming primaries and even the general election in November.

Read the full story about Wisconsin’s virus-plagued primary here.

Trump allies treat coronavirus patients with unproven drug in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas — When a coronavirus outbreak hit a Texas nursing home, Dr. Robin Armstrong reached for an uproven treatment: the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.

Dr. Robin Armstrong

Dr. Robin Armstrong puts on his gloves outside the entrance to The Resort at Texas City nursing home, where he is the medical director, on Tuesday in Texas City, Texas. Armstrong is treating nearly 30 residents of the nursing home with the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which is unproven against COVID-19. David J. Phillip/Associated Press

First, he needed to find a supply. But at a moment when President Trump is heavily promoting the drug, Armstrong is no regular physician. He is a Republican National Committee member and Republican activist in Houston, and after calling Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Texas chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, Armstrong soon had enough doses to begin treating 27 infected residents of The Resort at Texas City.

Armstrong, the medical director at the facility, said Tuesday it is too soon to tell whether the treatment will work. But his sweeping use of the drug at one nursing home along the smoggy Texas coastline illustrates how Trump’s championing of the medication is having an impact on doctors across the U.S., even as scientists warn that more testing is needed before it’s proven safe and effective against COVID-19.

“I probably would not have been able to get the medication had he not been talking about it so much,” Armstrong told The Associated Press.

Hydroxychloroquine is officially approved for treating malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, not COVID-19. But as Trump holds out promise for the drug in the face of a mounting death toll, he has often stated, “What have you got to lose?”

Now in Texas, political connections and Trump allies are helping push the drug into the hands of more physicians.

Republican Bryan Hughes, a Texas state senator, said he is helping organize a pipeline of hydroxychloroquine donations to other states through their Republican leaders. Hughes said he has spent recent weeks helping Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Georgia receive or expect shipments from Amneal Pharmaceuticals, a maker of the drug based in New Jersey. Last month, the company announced it had donated 1 million tablets to Texas.

Amneal did not return an email seeking comment Tuesday. The company has previously said it donated 2 million tablets to New York, and in Detroit, Henry Ford Health System announced it would lead a 3,000-person U.S. study to determine the effectiveness of the drug against COVID-19.

Small, preliminary studies have suggested the drug might help prevent the new coronavirus from entering cells and possibly help patients clear the virus sooner. But those have shown mixed results.

Coast Guard says workers aboard cruise ships in Texas pose public health risk

GALVESTON, Texas — The U.S. Coast Guard has determined that crew members on cruise ships and vessels in Galveston present a public health risk of spreading the new coronavirus and urged operators to form medical plans to care for sick workers.

In letters sent Friday to Royal Caribbean Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line, Coast Guard Capt. K.D. Oditt said the vessels’ crews pose “an unacceptable risk” of spreading COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

“I have determined your vessel poses an unacceptable risk of medical emergency due to the inherent and high probability of transmission of COVID-19 aboard, which presents a risk to the safety of the personnel aboard your vessel, first responders and the port,” Oditt wrote.

Two Carnival Cruise Line and two Royal Caribbean Cruises ships have been at the Port of Galveston since March 13 as they wait for business to return, the Galveston County Daily News reported Tuesday.

No passengers are on the ships, but they carry thousands of workers.

The companies must prepare to treat sick workers on the ships and plan to bring the critically ill to medical facilities, according to the letter.

The Coast Guard also directed the companies to identify medical facilities that would take in people who get evacuated from ships. Oditt urged the companies to arrange for private, commercial resources to take sick workers and care for them.

The companies confirmed to the newspaper that they received the orders, and they’re complying. Not following the Coast Guard’s orders could lead to fines of up to $25,000 or Class D felony charges, the letter says.

Navy secretary resigns after uproar over fired captain

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly has submitted a letter of resignation to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

That’s according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the matter before an official announcement.

The official says Modly has also told staff he is quitting.

Modly had created a combustible controversy by firing the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt last week, saying Capt. Brett E. Crozier had shown “extremely poor judgment” in widely distributing by email a letter calling for urgent help with the COVID-19 outbreak aboard his ship.

Modly then flew to the ship, at port in Guam, and delivered a speech to the crew in which he lambasted Crozier, saying he was either “too naive or too stupid” to be in charge of an aircraft carrier. On Monday night, at Esper’s insistence, Modly issued a public apology, but by then the calls among Democrats in Congress for his resignation were mounting.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Modly should lose his job.

“Sadly, Acting Secretary Modly’s actions and words demonstrate his failure to prioritize the force protection of our troops,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a written statement. “He showed a serious lack of the sound judgment and strong leadership needed during this time. Acting Secretary Modly must be removed from his position or resign.”

At least 173 sailors aboard the ship had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Monday. About 2,000 of the 4,865 crew members had been taken off the ship to be tested.

Read the full story here.

Wall Street’s rally fizzles as oil prices suddenly plunge

NEW YORK — A rally on Wall Street evaporated after the price of crude oil took a sudden turn lower, deflating gains in the energy sector.

Major indexes ended slightly lower Tuesday after being up more than 3 percent earlier. The market was coming off an even bigger gain of 7 percent the day before.

The rally faded after the price of U.S. oil flipped from a gain to a steep loss of more than 9 percent.

It had otherwise been an ebullient day for markets worldwide following encouraging signs that the coronavirus pandemic may be close to leveling off in some of the hardest-hit areas of the world.

Earlier in the day, Wall Street had surged to big gains as markets around the world rallied for a second straight day following encouraging signs that the coronavirus pandemic may be close to leveling off in some of the hardest hit areas of the world.

Even though economists say a punishing recession is inevitable, the stock market is looking ahead to when economies will reopen from their medically induced coma. A peak in new infections would offer some clarity about about how long the recession may last and how deep it will be.

Investors could then, finally, envision the other side of the economic shutdown, after authorities forced businesses to halt in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus. In the meantime, governments around the world are approving or discussing trillions of dollars more of aid for the economy.

Read more about what’s happening on Wall Street here.

Some hold-out governors say their states don’t need stay-at-home orders

DES MOINES, Iowa — Even as most Americans are under orders from their governor to stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, leaders in a handful of states have steadfastly refused to take that action, arguing it’s unneeded and could be harmful.

Nine governors have refused to issue statewide mandates that people stay at home, but local leaders have taken action in some of those states. North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Arkansas are the only states where no one is under a stay-at-home order.

The lack of action from those governors — even as they take other steps such as closing schools and limiting the size of gatherings — has frustrated health experts and left some residents puzzled.

“If social distancing maneuvers are going to work, they’re most likely going to work if you do them early,” said Arthur L. Reingold, a professor and infectious disease expert at the University of California-Berkeley. “The longer you wait, the harder it is for them to have a substantial impact on transmission of the virus.”

That also has been the message of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who has said all states should have statewide orders that people remain at home.

Fauci on Monday credited the governors of Nebraska and Iowa for what steps they have taken to slow the virus.

Nearly 305 million people live in the 41 states or Washington, D.C., which mandate people stay at home, compared with less than 9 million in the states without such mandatory orders. Enforcement of the rules, however, varies.

Trump removes inspector general who was to oversee $2 trillion stimulus spending

President Trump has removed the chairman of the federal panel Congress created to oversee his administration’s management of the $2 trillion stimulus package.

Glenn Fine, who had been the acting Pentagon inspector general, was informed Monday that he was being replaced by Sean W. O’Donnell, currently the acting inspector general at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Fine is a career official who had served as acting Pentagon inspector general for four years and three months. Before that he was inspector general at the Department of Justice for 11 years.

The move, which was first reported by Politico, will be seen by some as another instance of the president chafing at independent oversight. On Friday, he notified Congress that he was removing Michael Atkinson as the inspector general of the intelligence community – a decision that was criticized as a response to Atkinson’s having alerted lawmakers to the existence of a whistleblower complaint about the president’s dealings with Ukraine. The matter ultimately led to the president’s impeachment.

“Mr. Fine is no longer on the pandemic response accountability committee,” Department of Defense spokeswoman Dwrena K. Allen said in a statement. He will, however, continue to serve in his current position of principal deputy inspector general at the Pentagon. He had until now held both the acting and deputy positions.

Because Fine is no longer acting inspector general he is ineligible to hold the spending watchdog role.

Allen confirmed that on Monday, Trump nominated Jason Abend to be the permanent inspector general at the Defense Department.

Read more about the inspector general’s removal here.

Navy leader apologizes for insulting fired carrier captain

WASHINGTON — The Navy’s acting secretary has been forced to apologize after a profanity-laden broadside in which he called the fired commander of the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt “too naive or too stupid.”

Thomas Modly

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Thomas Modly issued a written apology Monday hours after President Donald Trump, at a White House news conference, described his comments about Capt. Brett E. Crozier as “rough.”

At least 173 sailors aboard the ship had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Monday, and about 2,000 of the 4,865 crew members had been taken off the ship to be tested.

Modly had relieved Crozier of command of the ship last week, saying he had lost confidence in him for having shown “extremely poor judgment” in widely distributing a memo pleading for an accelerated evacuation of the crew members to protect their health.

On Sunday, Modly flew to Guam to address sailors on the aircraft carrier who had cheered their support of Crozier as he departed the ship on Friday. He reprimanded them, saying they were overlooking their most basic duty to defend U.S. interests.

“So think about that when you cheer the man off the ship who exposed you to that,” he said. “I understand you love the guy. It’s good that you love him. But you’re not required to love him.”

Late Monday, Modly backtracked.

“I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused,” he wrote, referring to his speech aboard the Roosevelt on Sunday. “I also want to apologize directly to Captain Crozier, his family, and the entire crew of the Theodore Roosevelt for any pain my remarks may have caused.”

Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday that he might get involved, agreeing that Modly’s criticism of Crozier was “a rough statement.” He said Crozier made a mistake when he sent a memo to several people laying out his concerns about the crew and the virus. In the memo, which was leaked to the media, Crozier said, “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.”

Read the full story here.

Stocks rebound for second day as investors find hopeful signs

U.S. and global markets extended their massive rally a second strong gains, with the Dow soaring more than 800 points, as investors welcomed signs of progress against the coronavirus in the hardest-hit countries, even as the pandemic approaches its peak in the United States.

China reported no new coronavirus deaths Tuesday for the first time since January. Austria and Denmark on Monday became the first European nations to announce a timeline for ending their lockdowns. And In New York, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, deaths are starting to level off.

The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 846 points, or 3.7%, at the open, building on Monday’s massive 1,600-point rebound. The Standard & Poor’s 500 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq spiked more than 3%.

All three indexes skyrocketed more than 7% on Monday.

“The market’s relief is only likely to last so long, and attention will soon turn to how countries intend to exit the current containment measures which have in effect hit the pause button on the global economy,” Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said in commentary Tuesday.

Read the full story here.

UK’s Johnson is stable in ICU with virus, received oxygen

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in stable condition Tuesday in a hospital intensive care unit with the coronavirus, and while he is not on a ventilator, he is receiving oxygen, his spokesman said.

Virus_Outbreak_Britain_20910

A man reads a newspaper with the headline: ‘PM in intensive care’, outside St Thomas’ Hospital in central London as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in intensive care fighting the coronavirus in London, Tuesday, April 7. AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has taken over many of Johnson’s duties temporarily while he is being treated at St. Thomas’ Hospital. Britain has no official post of deputy prime minister.

The 55-year-old Johnson is the first major world leader to be confirmed to have COVID-19. He was admitted to the hospital late Sunday with a fever and cough that persisted 10 days after he was diagnosed with the virus. He was moved to the ICU Monday evening after his condition worsened.

“The prime minister has been stable overnight and remains in good spirits. He is receiving standard oxygen treatment and is breathing without any other assistance,” said Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack.

He said Johnson was not receiving mechanical ventilation or “noninvasive respiratory support.” He would not give details of what form of oxygen treatment the prime minister was getting.

Read the rest of this story here.

Spain records another rise in infections, deaths

MADRID — Spain is recording again a rise of daily coronavirus infections and deaths for the first time in five days, a result consistent with previous Tuesdays when a weekend backlog of tests and fatalities are reported.

With 743 new deaths in the last 24 hours, some 100 more than the fatalities seen from Sunday to Monday, Spain’s death toll neared 13,800 since the beginning of the pandemic, Health Ministry data showed. The total of confirmed infections rose over 140,000, with 5,478 new ones on Tuesday, 1,000 more than on Monday. Both figures had been declining since April 2.

Authorities have said that cementing the flattening of the contagion arc will be a long process but they have pinned hopes in how pressure is easing in hospitals, mostly in emergency wards.

As part of deescalating measures being debated for coming weeks, Spain’s left-wing government wants to test 30,000 households to draw the national map of the outbreak. The goal is to measure how much has the virus spread beyond hospitals and nursing homes, which had become big contagion clusters.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchéz’s Cabinet is expected to approve Tuesday new measures to cushion the economic and social impact of the pandemic, including subsidies for farmers and flexibility to temporarily hire migrant workers for harvesting vegetables and fruits.

Cambodia bans exports of rice and fish

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s leader says he is ordering a ban on exports of rice and fish to ensure there are no local shortages of the staple foods during the coronavirus crisis.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said he wanted to make sure there was a sufficient supply of salt and noodles as well. He appealed to Cambodians to plant vegetables and other crops to supply local markets “during this difficult time.”

Expensive gourmet varieties of rice that Cambodia has contracts to sell abroad are exempted from the export ban.

Hun Sen, speaking Tuesday, also announced that the Lunar New Year holiday scheduled for April 13-16 has been canceled to reduce the risk of people spreading COVID-19.

“It’s not going to be good at all for them if they are very joyful during the New Year’s days, but start mourning after New Year’s when they organize funeral ceremonies,” he said.

Hun Sen in February had been skeptical that the coronavirus would impact Cambodia, but as cases mounted he has imposed restrictions on gatherings and travel and welcomed medical assistance and experts from China.

Indonesia sees rapid spread of virus

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian government has been forecasting the new coronavirus may infect about 95,000 people in the country by next month as the virus was spreading rapidly in the past month.

Indonesia marked the biggest daily increase in COVID-19 cases since the country announced its two first cases early last month: 247 people tested positive on Tuesday, bringing the country caseload to 2,738.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati revealed the dire estimation during a hearing with the House’s Commission XI which overseeing economic issue at the parliament on Monday to discuss strategic steps that are needed to curb the peak of the virus transmission.

She said the estimate was discussed at a cabinet meeting held by President Joko Widodo earlier based on a projection by the country’s intelligence agency and academic experts.

Widodo has declared a national health emergency and ordered large scale social distancing to contain the spread of the new coronavirus in the archipelago nation, which is home for nearly 270 million.

While Indonesia’s death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak at 221 on Tuesday, it marked the highest in Asia after China.

Denmark plans to re-open primary schools

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark says it is planning to reopen next week kindergartners and primary schools for pupils aged up to 11 in a gradual lifting of the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said late Monday that her government planned opening schools for younger students up until class five first because the requirement to care for them represented a greater burden on society. Reopening is planned for April 15.

She said restaurants, bars and cafes would remain closed for now. Also churches, libraries, sports venues and shopping centers would remain closed until at least May 10.

Denmark will keep in force border controls and ban gatherings of more than 10 people at least until May 10.

Frederiksen stressed the announced gradual easing of the lockdown would take place only if the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases remains stable and there is no major hike by Easter.

Dutch government says homeowners won’t be evicted

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch government says homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgages because of the coronavirus crisis will not be evicted.

Banks, housing organizations and the ministry of environment and housing issued a statement Tuesday pledging not to kick people out of their homes in the coming months as restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus wreak a devastating economic toll.

If people whose income has been hammered by the measures are unable to make monthly repayments, “mortgage providers together with homeowners will seek solutions” and not force them to sell their home, the statement says.

The exception to the no-eviction pledge is if a person is found to be running illegal activities in their home, such as a drug lab.

South Korean baseball league eyes return

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s professional baseball league says it hopes to start practice games between teams on April 21 before possibly opening the season in early May.

The Korea Baseball Organization said Tuesday the plans were contingent on the country’s coronavirus caseload continuing to slow.

The KBO will advise players to wear face masks in locker rooms and require them to download smartphone apps to report their daily health status to league officials.

South Korea reported 47 new cases for the second consecutive day on Tuesday, the smallest daily jumps since Feb. 20, as infections continued to wane in the worst-hit city of Daegu. The country was reporting around 500 new cases per day in early March.

The KBO announced last month that it was postponing the start of its season, but that it still hoped to maintain a 144-game regular-season schedule.

China and Russia closing land border, port

BEIJING — China and Russia are closing their land border and river port near Vladivostok following the discovery of 59 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus among Chinese citizens returning home via the crossing.

Beginning Tuesday, all Chinese citizens who arrive in the border region aboard Russian domestic flights will be forced to undergo a 14-day quarantine, according to a notice posted on the website of the Chinese consulate in Vladivostok.

Only those holding special passes will then be permitted to travel on the Russian side of the border area, the notice said. It wasn’t clear whether pass holders would be able to cross into China.

In addition, all guesthouses, nursing homes, on the Russian side of the border area will also be closed to outsiders through June 1, the notice said.

“Here, the consulate general strongly recommends and reminds relevant Chinese citizens to fully take into consideration the above situation” and not seek to return to China through the border crossing, the notice said.

Africa reports more than 10,000 cases

JOHANNESBURG — The African continent now has more than 10,000 coronavirus cases. That’s according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fifty-two of Africa’s 54 countries now have the virus, with island nation Sao Tome e Principe the latest to confirm cases.

Only the small kingdom of Lesotho and the island nation of Comoros have not confirmed cases. South Africa has the most cases on the continent with more than 1,600.

The shortage of testing capabilities across the continent has raised concerns that the number of actual cases in Africa could be higher.

Russia reports 1,000 new cases in 24 hours

MOSCOW — Russian authorities registered more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours for the first time since the beginning of the outbreak.

The government coronavirus task force reported 1,154 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the country’s total caseload to 7,497, with 58 deaths and 494 recoveries.

The epidemic in Russia picked up speed in March, with the number of cases growing exponentially and doubling every few days.

In order to curb the outbreak, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered everyone to stay off work this month, with only essential businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacies etc., operating. The vast majority of Russian regions are currently on lockdown, ordering residents to self-isolate at home and not go out, unless it’s to buy groceries, medications, walk their dogs or take out trash.

New Zealand declares Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy essential workers

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand has decided there is some magic in the world after officially declaring children’s favorites the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are essential workers.

That means they can carry on with their work while others stay at home during a monthlong lockdown.

“You will be pleased to know that we do consider both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday. “But, as you can imagine at this time, of course, they are going to potentially be quite busy at home with their family as well and their own bunnies.”

 


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