Categories
World News

U.S. now has more coronavirus cases than any other country

Confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States reached 81,378 on Thursday, more than any other country, overtaking both Italy and China, a Reuters tally showed.

China was second with 81,285 cases, and Italy was third with 80,539 cases.

Tallies from The New York Times and Johns Hopkins University also showed that the U.S. surpassed China and Italy on Thursday.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

More than 1,000 people have died due to the virus in the U.S.

This is a breaking news story that will be updated.

 

 

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
World News

New Brunswick confirms 7 additional COVID-19 cases, announces relief programs

New Brunswick has seven more cases of COVID-19, the province’s chief medical officer of health announced on Thursday.

Dr. Jennifer Russell said the additional cases — all of which are travel-related — bring the total number to 33 cases in New Brunswick.

Russell said the current restrictions on travel and public interaction are not meant to last forever but are necessary to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“This will not be over soon,” she said. “But we can get through this together.”

Russell explained the province is committed to testing those who are at the greatest risk, saying this is the best way to conserve testing resources.

“The advice I have given over the past weeks insistently and consistently still stands,” said Russell.

“Stay home as much as you possibly can.”

The chief medical officer of health acknowledged that community transmission has occurred in other areas of the country but said it has not been detected in the province as of Thursday.

Premier Blaine Higgs said layoffs in the province are believed to have impacted between 25,00 and 30,000 individuals as a result of the new coronavirus.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

The true figures will become clearer after Statistics Canada releases its figures for the entire month.

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
World News

US veteran civil rights leader Joseph E Lowery dies at 98

The charismatic preacher who fought against racial discrimination died at home in Atlanta from natural causes.

Joseph E Lowery, a veteran civil rights leader who helped Martin Luther King Jr found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and fought against racial discrimination in the United States, has died, a family statement has said.

A family statement said he died on Friday at home in Atlanta from natural causes unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic. He was 98.

A charismatic and fiery preacher, Lowery led the SCLC for two decades – restoring the organisation’s financial stability and pressuring businesses not to trade with South Africa’s apartheid-era regime – before retiring in 1997.

Lowery, considered the dean of civil rights veterans, lived to celebrate a November 2008 milestone that few of his movement colleagues thought they would ever witness – the election of an African American president.

At an emotional victory celebration for President-elect Barack Obama in Atlanta, Lowery said, “America tonight is in the process of being born again.”

An early and enthusiastic supporter of Obama over then-Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Lowery also gave the benediction at Obama’s inauguration.

“We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union,” he said.

In 2009, Obama awarded Lowery the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour.

In another high-profile moment, Lowery drew a standing ovation at the 2006 funeral of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, when he criticised the war in Iraq, saying, “For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.”

The comment also drew head shakes from then-President George Bush and his father, former president George H W Bush, who were seated behind the pulpit.

Christian faith

Lowery’s involvement in civil rights grew from his Christian faith. He often preached that racial discrimination in housing, employment and health care was at odds with fundamental Christian values such as human worth and the brotherhood of man.

“I’ve never felt your ministry should be totally devoted to making a heavenly home. I thought it should also be devoted to making your home here heavenly,” he once said.

Lowery remained active in fighting issues such as war, poverty and racism long after retiring, and survived prostate cancer and throat surgery after he beat the racial segregation system known as Jim Crow.

His wife, Evelyn Gibson Lowery, who worked alongside her husband of nearly 70 years and served as head of SCLC Women, died in 2013.

Lowery was pastor of the Warren Street Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama, in the 1950s when he met King, who then lived in Montgomery, Alabama.

Lowery’s meetings with King, Ralph David Abernathy and other civil rights activists led to the SCLC’s formation in 1957. The group became a leading force in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.

Lowery became SCLC president in 1977 following the resignation of Abernathy, who had taken the job after King was assassinated in 1968.

He took over an SCLC that was deeply in debt and losing members rapidly. Lowery helped the organisation survive and guided it on a new course that embraced more mainstream social and economic policies.

Coretta Scott King once said Lowery “has led more marches and been in the trenches more than anyone since Martin”.

Protests and boycotts

He was arrested in 1983 in North Carolina for protesting against the dumping of toxic wastes in a predominantly black county and in 1984 in Washington while demonstrating against apartheid.

He recalled a 1979 confrontation in Decatur, Alabama, when he and others were protesting against the case of a mentally disabled black man charged with rape. He recalled that bullets whizzed inches above their heads and a group of Klan members confronted them.

“I could hear them go ‘whoosh’,” Lowery said. “I’ll never forget that. I almost died 24 miles from where I was born.”

In the mid-1980s, he led a boycott that persuaded the Winn-Dixie grocery chain to stop selling South African canned fruit and frozen fish when that nation was in the grip of apartheid.

He also continued to urge black people to exercise their hard-won rights by registering to vote.

“Black people need to understand that the right to vote was not a gift of our political system but came as a result of blood, sweat and tears,” he said in 1985.

Like King, Lowery combined his civil rights work with ministry. He pastored United Methodist churches in Atlanta for decades and continued preaching long after retiring.

‘I believe in the final triumph of righteousness’

Born in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1921, Joseph Echols Lowery grew up in a Methodist church where his great-grandfather, Howard Echols, was the first black pastor. Lowery’s father, a grocery store owner, often protested against racism in the community.

After college, Lowery edited a newspaper and taught school in Birmingham, but the idea of becoming a minister “just kept gnawing and gnawing at me”, he said.

After marrying Evelyn Gibson, a Methodist preacher’s daughter, he began his first pastorate in Birmingham in 1948.

In a 1998 interview, Lowery said he was optimistic that true racial equality would one day be achieved.

“I believe in the final triumph of righteousness,” he said. “The Bible says weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

A member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Lowery is survived by his three daughters, Yvonne Kennedy, Karen Lowery and Cheryl Lowery-Osborne.


Face to Face

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
World News

EU says Britain had chance to join ventilator procurement scheme

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain was given a chance to participate in a European Union scheme to buy ventilators to fight the coronavirus, the EU said on Friday, after London said it had not joined because it missed the invitation in an e-mail mixup.

The EU launched a joint procurement procedure on March 17 to buy ventilators on behalf of 25 members states, in a bid to cut prices and reduce competition among EU nations seeking the machines which help coronavirus patients breathe and are in short supply.

Britain, which is entitled to participate in such schemes under an 11-month transition deal since leaving the EU in January, did not join it.

That attracted criticism at home from opponents who accused the government of prioritizing “Brexit over breathing” – so determined to act independently of the bloc that it would risk public health in the coronavirus crisis.

A British government spokesman said on Thursday London had not rejected the scheme deliberately, but had stayed out because it missed the invitation, due to an e-mail mixup. Britain would consider joining such joint procurement schemes in the future.

However, an EU spokesman said on Friday British officials had attended several meetings at which the scheme was discussed, and Britain had been given a chance to say if it wanted to be included.

Schemes to buy ventilators and other medical gear were “discussed several times in the meetings of the health security committee where the UK participated,” the spokesman said.

Related Coverage

  • UK says working at pace on ventilator production plan

“Member states and the UK had the opportunity to signal their interest to participate in any joint procurement” at the meetings and via an EU communication system, he said.

The EU is analyzing offers received on Thursday on the procurement for ventilators, the EU spokesman said.

Offers were also received this week for an earlier EU procurement for face masks, gloves and visors for medical staff launched a month ago. If contracts are signed, goods could be received in coming weeks.

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
World News

COVID-19: World’s biggest condom producer warns of global shortage

A global shortage of condoms is looming, the world’s biggest producer said, after a coronavirus lockdown forced it to shut down production.

Malaysia’s Karex Bhd makes one in every five condoms globally. It has not produced a single condom from its three Malaysian factories for more than a week due to a lockdown imposed by the government to halt the spread of the virus.

That’s already a shortfall of 100 million condoms, normally marketed internationally by brands such as Durex, supplied to state healthcare systems such as Britain’s NHS or distributed by aid programs such as the UN Population Fund.

The company was given permission to restart production on Friday, but with only 50 per cent of its workforce, under a special exemption for critical industries.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

“It will take time to jumpstart factories and we will struggle to keep up with demand at half capacity,” Chief Executive Goh Miah Kiat told Reuters.

“We are going to see a global shortage of condoms everywhere, which is going to be scary,” he said. “My concern is that for a lot of humanitarian programs deep down in Africa, the shortage will not just be two weeks or a month. That shortage can run into months.”

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
World News

South China Sea: China’s missiles tests in region contested by Philippines revealed

The tests occurred in 2019, as NBC reported at the time, quoting a US official who said: “The Chinese carried out the first test over the weekend, firing off at least one missile into the sea.” The source even warned that future tests would be undertaken, stating that: “The window for testing remains open until July 3, and the official expects the Chinese military to test again before it closes.” No US Navy vessels were in the area when the missile or missiles splashed down, but the official described the event as “concerning” nonetheless.

In January 2019 China’s forces sent anti-ship ballistic missiles to the country’s northwest in an apparent attempt to thwart US Navy’s own attempts to send missile-armed vessels into the region.

The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force positioned at least a dozen -launcher vehicles for the DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missile at a previously undisclosed training range near Alxa in China’s Inner Mongolia region, DigitalGlobe satellite imagery showed in January 2019.

The deployment was reportedly a response to the appearance of a US Navy warship near the Paracel Islands. The destroyer USS McCampbell sailed near the island group as part of a freedom of navigation operation.

But China’s military might is most prominent in the Spratly Islands – located in the centre of the South China Sea.

The archipelago is contested by numerous nations, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Described by many as “island fortresses”, China has engulfed the South China Sea with man-made island bases, and has been accused of forming them specifically for military purposes.

The moving of its aircraft carriers, airstrips and weapons into the region has earned the cluster of bases the nickname: “The Great Wall of Sand.”

A leaked set of photos given to a Filipino newspaper showed just how elaborate China’s development of military bases has been.

Some photographs showed cargo ships and supply vessels, which the newspaper said appeared to be delivering construction materials to the China-controlled islands.

Others show runways, hangars, control towers, helipads and radomes as well as a series of multi-storey buildings that China has built on reefs.

Beijing has been involved in numerous rows over the region, but its most recent standoff came with Malaysia.

The flashpoint has erupted after Malaysia explored waters outside its economic exclusion zone, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), leaving China and Vietnam livid.

DON’T MISS:
South China Sea mapped: China’s new standoff with Malaysia [INSIGHT]
South China Sea: China’s ‘monster’ vessels against British ship [ANALYSIS]
South China Sea crisis: Philippines issues 45 diplomatic protests [INSIGHT]

For weeks the countries have been wrestling for control as part of the wider battle for oil rich waters in the region.

But the new clash was sparked by a British drillship – the West Capella – deployed by Malaysia to an area which lies within the Malaysia-Vietnam Joint Defined Area (JDA) as well as China’s Nine-Dash Line.

Some of these oil fields are located within the Malaysia-Vietnam joint defined area, and the exploration effort has provoked fury from China.

China and Vietnam both deployed significant naval firepower to the area to disrupt and stop Malaysia’s energy exploration activities through intimidation.

AMTI tracked the standoff, following China Coast Guard (CCG) ships Haijing 5203 and 5305 as they patrolled around the British vessel being used by Malaysia in the region.

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
Sports

Doping: Coronavirus will not be opportunity for drug cheats says Wada chief

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND (REUTERS) – World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) chief Witold Banka had a message on Friday for any athlete thinking they could take advantage of the gap in drug-testing created by the coronavirus outbreak – “we will catch you” and “eliminate you”.

Wada acknowledged last week that the coronavirus pandemic had created challenges for drug-testers with countries closing borders, cancelling flights, enforcing mandatory quarantines or isolations and the shutdown of the sporting calendar.

For unscrupulous athletes this represents a huge opportunity.

Out of reach of the anti-doping authorities, perhaps in some cases for months, some athletes may feel emboldened to boost their medal chances with the help of performance-enhancing drugs, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics postponed for a year.

If they do Banka insisted they will be caught.

“They are not athletes, if you are a cheat we will catch you, for sure we… will …catch you,” the Wada president told Reuters in a phone interview.

“If you want to use this situation to cheat us we will catch you and we will eliminate you from sport.”

OTHER WEAPONS

The coronavirus means, however, that testing is certainly in slumber and Wada conceded that it has been reduced in certain parts of the world although no figures are available.

In the absence of testing, Wada will have to rely on other weapons in its anti-doping arsenal including the athlete biological passport, long-term analysis and investigations.

“The world stops, this is a new and challenging situation for all of us but we have a lot of tools we are using and I hope we will return to full power very quickly,” said Banka.

“Anti-doping never sleeps, that is the message I would like to give to my fellow athletes. Testing is not the one weapon we have which we can use against cheats.

“It is important to know athletes remain subject to testing and they must provide whereabouts information.

“To the athletes and my colleagues we will do everything to maintain the integrity of the system and hope we return full power very quickly.”

Knowing where athletes are is one thing, getting to them during an epidemic is another, with entire cities and regions quarantined or locked down.

But the International Olympic Committee’s decision to delay the 2020 Games for a year has also bought Wada some time to plan and ramp up testing when it is safe to do so.

HUGE PROBLEM

“This is a difficult situation, a huge problem, but we are doing our best to monitor the situation,” said Banka.

“The decision to postpone the Olympic Games was a helpful decision. I need to say it was a victory for commonsense and I think everyone agrees it was the right call.

“For ourt anti-doping program it was good.” While testing is down, Wada has made no cuts and is not planning any layoffs, said Banka adding; “Our financial situation, taking into account current situations, is very stable”.

Banka, who helped Poland win a bronze medal in the 4×400 metres relay at the 2007 world championships, said Wada will use every resource available to ensure a level playing field in Tokyo.

“I am coming from an athletic environment and I will do everything to convince the athletes I am working with them and I am listening and I will do everything to create a fair environment for them.” he said.

“I will use a lot of tools to do this. We will use all the weapons which we have.”

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
World News

Generation next: How the young are changing Taiwan's politics

The generation that grew up in a democratic Taiwan are determined to promote and defend the island’s freedoms.

Taipei, Taiwan – Independent theatre producer Lin Chihyu, 29, originally planned to travel to Vietnam with her maternal grandfather to attend a friend’s wedding ceremony before Taiwan held general elections in January. 

But five days before the poll she changed her mind and decided not to book her flight. 

More:

  • Taiwan’s Tsao Ing-wen returned to power in landslide

  • Taiwan’s push against ‘red media’

  • China holds military drills after US approves Taiwan arms sale

“If there’s no Taiwan, I feel it will be very hard to have another place in Asia that has this degree of freedom,” said Lin, who voted for incumbent Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the capital Taipei.

“Only Taiwan that allows you to be that free for saying [what you want to say].” 

A democratic political system with a high degree of freedom has fostered a generation of young people increasingly proud of their Taiwanese roots, creating a generational shift that is likely to become an increasing issue in the island’s future politics.

“It is fascinating how Taiwanese who were born even 10 years apart can have such different life experiences,” said Margaret Lewis, an expert on Taiwanese politics and a law professor at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. 

“People my age remember martial law and were old enough to vote in the first direct presidential election [in 1996]. People 10 years younger might have vague memories of authoritarian times, but they came of age in a free and democratic Taiwan,” 44-year-old Lewis added.

In a survey on changes in Taiwanese and Chinese identity among people on the island, National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center found that as of June 2019 about 57 percent of people identified as Taiwanese, while 37 percent said they were both Taiwanese and Chinese. Only 4 percent said they were Chinese while the rest chose not to answer.

Meanwhile, a survey from the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy found 82 percent of respondents aged between 20 and 29 were willing to defend Taiwan if “China uses force against Taiwan for unification”.

The Republic of China (ROC) was originally established in 1912 in mainland China. After being defeated by the communists in the civil war in 1949, however, its nationalist leaders relocated to Taiwan, where they set themselves up in power.

The victorious communist, meanwhile, set up the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and considers Taiwan part of its territory. It has not ruled out the use of force to incorporate it with the mainland. 

Not China

Another young person who backed Tsai was Cathy Chan, a 23-year-old master’s student at the National Taiwan University, who went home to Taoyuan in northern Taiwan so she could vote. 

“When studying in Japan, many people thought that Taiwan was China,” Chan told Al Jazeera, explaining some of the frustration she feels at others’ lack of knowledge about her homeland. 

“I want to confidently tell everyone that I am from Taiwan. And Taiwan is a beautiful democratic, free country.”

Timothy S Rich, an associate professor of political science at the Western Kentucky University (WKU), who has studied Taiwanese electoral politics and public opinion, said younger Taiwanese were “far less likely” to see themselves as Chinese other than in a broad acknowledgement of cultural similarities. 

“They see Taiwan as a sovereign state separate from China,” he added.

Austin Wang, an assistant professor at the department of political science at the University of Nevada, told Al Jazeera that a growing sense of unique identity has become one of the most significant trends in Taiwan in the last 30 years.

He said while the older generations still see themselves as part Chinese, and unification an opportunity to resolve China’s so-called “century of humiliation” – the term used in China to describe the period from the middle of the 19th century when it was dominated by Japan, Russia and European powers – young people have different ideas.

“For the young generation who only identifies themselves as Taiwanese, they mostly see the case of Hong Kong [protests] as the example [of Chinese rule],” said Wang, who has studied Taiwanese politics and political psychology, adding the youth are mostly against China’s unification.

“Even though the former KMT authoritarian regime tried to persuade Taiwanese people to be Chinese, the de facto separation had made Taiwanese and Chinese people different in many aspects,” he added, referring to the then-ruling Kuomintang party that imposed martial law on the island from 1949 to 1987.

That authoritarian system had a significant effect on Taiwan’s older generation, many of whom remain reluctant to speak freely.

Chen Yi Chun, 29, who works in a bookshop, said her mother told her every day not to write “careless” posts on politics on her Facebook.

“Once we this generation were born, we had this freedom right away, so there’s no way for us to understand what they were scared of,” Chen said. Taiwan’s “unification” with China would be a “very scary thing”, she added.

Rich of the WKU noted that young people were also less likely to have “emotional attachments to China” and would find it easier to assert their Taiwanese identity. 

Future policies

The shift has left the KMT, with older leaders and a platform seen as supportive of unification, on the back foot.

“Whereas in the not so distant past, the party could position itself as the party of political and economic stability, it now often looks out of touch with Taiwanese society,” Rich told Al Jazeera.

This month the party appointed a new leader.

Johnny Chiang, 48, is the youngest person ever to hold the post, but even as the party faces the reality of Taiwan’s generational shift, its traditionalists remain reluctant to change.

Chiang will also need to tread carefully with China. 

“If China perceives Chiang as seeking to adjust the fundamental tenets by which the KMT conducts cross-strait relations, in jettisoning the 1992 Consensus, it may seek to sabotage him,” Brian Hioe, an expert on Taiwanese politics and founding editor of New Bloom, a Taiwan-focused cultural and political magazine, told Al Jazeera, referring to the so-called agreement with Beijing that there is only “one China” but with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” is. 

While concerns about high property prices – an apartment in Taipei is typically 14.5 times higher than the median annual household income – and the economy might prove fertile ground for the KMT, many young people remain behind the reform-minded Tsai.

“Issues that may have been difficult to pursue earlier, from refugee laws to free trade agreements, are likely on the table,” WKU’s Rich said.

“I also expect that more broadly Tsai and the DPP will be more assertive on responding to China,” he added. 

For people, like Chen, that would be a welcome development.

“I believe that Taiwan will become a better country,” Chen said. “As a citizen, I will use my life’s strength to make Taiwan an existence that is sufficient to prove that democracy and freedom are the least lethal, but most effective, weapons against hegemony.”


People & Power

Taiwan: Spies, Lies and Cross-straits Ties

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
World News

China's Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged, begins to lift its lockdown

WUHAN, China (Reuters) – The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak first emerged, began lifting a two-month lockdown on Saturday by restarting some metro services and reopening borders, allowing some semblance of normality to return and families to reunite.

After being cut-off from the rest of the country for two months, the reopening of Wuhan, where the epidemic first erupted in late December, marks a turning point in China’s fight against the virus, though the contagion has since spread to over 200 countries.

Among those on the first high-speed trains allowed into the city on Saturday morning was Guo Liangkai, a 19-year-old student whose one-month work stint in Shanghai stretched to three months due to the clamp down on movement.

“It makes me very happy that I can see my family,” Guo told Reuters after being greeted by his mother at the main station.

“We wanted to hug but now is a special period so we can’t hug or take any actions like these.”

Authorities took draconian measures to stop people from entering or leaving the industrial city of 11 million people in central China. Families were confined to their homes. Bus and taxi services were shut, and only essential stores were allowed to remain open.

“I think the resumption of work represents a kind of hope. It at least shows that China is victorious,” said Zhang Yulun, 35, returning to Wuhan for work.

China’s National Health Commission said on Saturday that 54 new coronavirus cases were reported on the mainland on Friday, all involving so-called imported cases. Mainland China now has 81,394 cases, with the death toll rising by three to 3,295, the commission said.

Wuhan accounts for about 60% of China’s coronavirus cases, but they have fallen sharply in recent weeks, a sign that the measures are working. The last confirmed locally transmitted case of the virus in Wuhan was on Monday.

Related Coverage

  • Malaysia reports 159 new coronavirus cases; 2,320 in total
  • Philippines reports 14 new coronavirus deaths, 272 infections

With the United States, Italy and Spain and other countries now battling soaring infections, China is focusing on the risk posed by imported cases – most of them Chinese returning home.

Effective Saturday, China suspended the entry of foreign nationals with valid Chinese visas and residence permits.

DISINFECTANT AND MASKS

But even with the decline in cases and loosening of restrictions, Wuhan authorities were taking few chances.

Staff, some in full-body protective gear, and volunteers bustled around the railway station in the morning, setting out hand disinfectant and putting up signs reminding travelers they need a mobile-phone based health code to take public transport.

A worker walked through one metro train carrying a signboard reading: “Wear a mask for the entire journey, people should not gather and when you disembark please scan the health code.”

“Everyone is taking the right precautions. So, there shouldn’t be a problem,” Yuan Hai, 30, a passenger on a reopened metro line said when asked about the risks. “But you have to be careful.”

The existence of an unknown number of asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus in China has raised concerns among the public that lifting the restrictions may release thousands of people who could still be spreading the virus that causes COVID-19, without knowing they are sick.

Life in Wuhan remains far from normal. The vast majority of shops are shut while bright yellow roadblocks remain. Wuhan will not let people leave the city until April 8.

Some people at the railway station, such as a woman who only gave her surname as Zhang, said they were there to see if there was any chance people could leave earlier.

Her grandson came to visit her for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday in January and has been separated from his parents in the southern city of Shenzhen ever since. With schools there possibly reopening, she hopes he can get back soon.

“He was supposed to leave on the fifth day (of the holiday) but has now been here for a few months,” she said.

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
Politics

House takes up $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill, as Trump blasts holdout congressman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Armed with hand sanitizer and discouraged from using elevators, members of the U.S. House of Representatives convened on Friday to quickly pass a sweeping $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill, though it was unclear whether they would be forced to delay.

Leadership of the Democratic-controlled chamber and top Republicans aimed to pass the largest relief measure that Congress has ever taken up in a voice vote, one of the fastest methods available, and pass it on to Republican President Donald Trump for his signature.

“Today’s vote is about saving lives and livelihoods,” said Republican Representative Kevin Brady. “Congress must act together and act aggressively now to stem this crisis.”

As debate commenced, lawmakers sat several seats apart from each other, maintaining distance as they waited for a chance to speak. The House scheduled three hours of debate, headed toward a possible vote around noon EDT (1600 GMT).

There could be opposition. Republican Representative Thomas Massie said he was uncomfortable with the idea of allowing the massive package to pass by voice vote and indicated he may force the chamber to hold a formal, recorded vote. That could delay action until Saturday.

As the House debated, Trump lashed out at Massie on Twitter, calling him a “third rate Grandstander.”

“He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay,” the president wrote in a series of tweets. “…. throw Massie out of Republican Party!”

To minimize the threat of infection due to the coronavirus, the Capitol has laid out special procedures. Members are barred from sitting next to one another and would be called from their offices alphabetically for the vote. They will be required to use hand sanitizer before entering the chamber and encouraged to take the stairs, rather than use elevators, to better maintain social distancing.

Most of the House’s 430 current members are in their home districts because of the coronavirus outbreak and would need to go to Washington if Massie forces a recorded vote – which could put them at further risk of contagion.

Older people have proven especially vulnerable to the disease, and the average age of House members was 58 years old at the beginning of 2019, well above the average age of 38 for the U.S. population as whole.

The rescue package – which would be the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress – will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks if the House backs it and Trump signs it into law. It passed the Republican-led Senate unanimously on Wednesday night.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $5 00 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

VOICE VOTE SOUGHT

The rare but deep, bipartisan support in Congress underscored how seriously lawmakers are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.

Pelosi said House leaders were planning to fast-track the rescue plan by passing it via a voice vote on Friday. She had said that if there were calls for a roll-call vote, lawmakers might be able to vote remotely as not all would be able to be in Washington.

It was unclear whether Massie would block the measure.

“I’m having a real hard time with this,” Massie, an outspoken fiscal conservative, said on 55KRC talk radio in Cincinnati.

Democratic Representative Dean Phillips asked Massie on Twitter to let his colleagues know if he intended to delay the bill’s passage “RIGHT NOW so we can book flights and expend about $200,000 in taxpayer money to counter your principled but terribly misguided stunt.”

The United States surpassed China and Italy on Thursday as the country with the most coronavirus cases. The number of U.S. cases passed 82,000, and the death toll reached almost 1,200.

The Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

Source: Read Full Article