US senators and the Trump administration have struck an agreement on a sweeping $US2 trillion ($3.3 trillion) package to aid workers, businesses and a healthcare system strained by the coronavirus pandemic.
- The package was expected to include funding for hard-hit industries and direct payments for families
- Donald Trump has said he would like the country to reopen by Easter
- The US has recorded more than 660 COVID-19 deaths
Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight (local time).
The agreement came after days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are done. We have a deal,” Mr Ueland said.
The package is expected to include a $US500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $US3,000 to millions of US families.
It will also include $US350 billion for small-business loans, $US250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and $US75 billion for hospitals.
It aims to combat what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called “the most serious threat to Americans’ health in over a century and quite likely the greatest risk to America’s jobs and prosperity that we’ve seen since the Great Depression”.
COVID-19 has killed more than 660 people in the US and infected more than 55,000.
The pandemic has shuttered thousands of businesses, left millions out of work and led states to order 100 million people — nearly a third of the population — to stay at home.
The money in the stimulus legislation exceeds what the US Government spends on national defence, scientific research, highway construction and other discretionary programs.
Trump wants to reopen US by Easter
Yet even as the public-health crisis deepened, US President Donald Trump expressed eagerness to nudge many people back to work in the coming weeks, suggested the country could be returning to normal in less than a month.
“We have to go back to work much sooner than people thought,” Mr Trump told a Fox News town hall.
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He said he would like to have the country “opened up and just raring to go” by Easter on April 12.
But in a White House briefing later, Mr Trump said “our decision will be based on hard facts and data”.
Medical professionals say physical distancing needs to be stepped up, not relaxed, to slow the spread of infections.
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At the White House briefing, public health authorities said it was particularly important for people in the hard-hit New York City metropolitan area to quarantine themselves for 14 days, and for those who had recently left the city to do the same.
Anthony Fauci, the Government’s top infectious disease expert: “No-one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City.”
‘Approve the deal without all the nonsense’
Ravaged in recent days, US stocks rocketed as negotiators signalled a resolution was in sight.
@realDonaldTrump Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today. The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy. Our workers will be hurt!
Opening the Senate on Tuesday, Mr McConnell combined optimism about the chances for a deal with frustration at the delays — and a sober view of the crisis at hand.
“The urgency and the gravity of this moment cannot be lost on anyone,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Trump urged swift action.
“Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today,” he tweeted.
“The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy.”