Trump warns Iran, proxies against attacking U.S. in Iraq

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday warned Iran and its proxies against attacking U.S. troops or assets in Iraq, citing a possible “sneak attack” but giving no other details.

“Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on U.S. troops and/or assets in Iraq. If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chris Reese; Editing by Chris Reese)

What’s in the $2.3 trillion U.S. coronavirus rescue package

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump signed the largest federal stimulus package in history into law on March 27 to help cope with the economic downturn inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic and shore up medical providers on the front lines of the outbreak.

Here are major elements of the plan, which is estimated to cost roughly $2.3 trillion. Cost estimates are provided by congressional committees and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan policy group.

DIRECT PAYMENTS TO AMERICANS

Direct payments of up to $1,200 each to millions of Americans, with additional payments of $500 per child. Payments would be phased out for those earning more than $75,000 a year. Those earning more than $99,000 would not be eligible.

Estimated cost: $292 billion

ENHANCED UNEMPLOYMENT AID

Payments for jobless workers would increase by $600 per week. Laid-off workers would get those payments for up to four months. Regular benefits, which typically run out after six months in most states, would be extended for an additional 13 weeks.

Self-employed workers, independent contractors and those who typically don’t qualify for unemployment benefits would be eligible. The government would also partially make up wages for workers whose hours are scaled back, in an effort to encourage employers to avoid layoffs.

Estimated cost: $260 billion

SMALL BUSINESS LOANS AND GRANTS

Loans for businesses that have fewer than 500 employees could be partially forgiven if they are used for employee salaries, rent, mortgage interest and utility costs. The bill also includes emergency grants for small business.

Estimated cost: $377 billion.

AID TO AIRLINES, LARGE BUSINESSES

The bill sets up a fund to support a new Federal Reserve program that offers up to $4.5 trillion in loans to businesses, states and cities that can’t get financing through other means.

Companies tapping the fund would not be able to engage in stock buybacks and would have to retain at least 90% of their employees through the end of September. They would not be able to boost executive pay by more than $425,000 annually, and those earning more than $3 million a year would see their salaries reduced.

The fund would be overseen by an inspector general and a congressional oversight board. The Treasury secretary would have to disclose transactions.

Businesses owned by President Donald Trump, other administration officials or Congress members, or their family members, would not be eligible for assistance.

Loans are set aside for airlines, air cargo carriers, airline contractors and “businesses important to maintaining national security,” widely understood to be Boeing Co.

Total cost: $500 billion

GRANTS FOR AIRLINES

Airlines, air cargo carries and airline contractors also could get grants to cover payroll costs. They would have to maintain service and staffing levels, and would not be able to buy back stock or pay dividends. The U.S. government could get stock or other equity in return. Executive pay above $425,000 a year would be frozen for two years, and those who earn more than $3 million annually would see their salaries reduced.

Total cost: $32 billion

HOSPITALS AND PUBLIC HEALTH

– $100 billion for hospitals and other elements of the healthcare system

– $16 billion for ventilators, masks and other medical supplies

– $11 billion for vaccines and other medical preparedness

– $10 billion for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other health agencies

– $20 billion for veterans and military health systems

– $20 billion for the Medicare health program for seniors

STATES, EDUCATION, TRANSPORTATION

– $150 billion for state, local and Native American tribal governments

– $45 billion in disaster relief

– $32 billion for education

– $25 billion for mass-transit systems

– $10 billion in borrowing authority for the U.S. Postal Service

– $1 billion for the Amtrak passenger rail service

– $10 billion for airports

– $4 billion to suspend airline ticket, cargo and fuel taxes

TAX CUTS

– A refundable 50 percent payroll tax credit for businesses affected by the coronavirus, to encourage employee retention. Employers would also be able to defer payment of those taxes if necessary. Cost: $67 billion

– Loosened tax deductions for interest and operating losses. Cost: $210 billion

– Loosened rules for retirement funds, allowing people to withdraw money early or postpone withdrawals from accounts such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) that have been hurt by turbulence in financial markets. Cost: $8 billion

– Allows people to use tax-advantaged savings accounts to buy menstrual medical products. Cost: $9 billion

– Tax write-offs to encourage charitable deductions and encourage employers to help pay off student loans. Cost: $3 billion

– Waive tax on distilled spirits used to make hand sanitizer

INCREASED SAFETY NET SPENDING

– $25 billion more for food stamps and child nutrition

– $12 billion more for housing programs

– $5 billion more for child and family services

OTHER ELEMENTS

– Temporary ban on foreclosures and evictions for people who rely on federal housing and mortgage programs

– Defer payments and interest on federal student loans

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney, Steve Orlofsky, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)

Trump says he might lock down New York as health workers call for more supplies

By Alexandra Alper and Jonathan Stempel

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Saturday he might prohibit travel in and out of the New York area to limit the spread of the coronavirus from its U.S. epicenter, as healthcare workers in the hard-hit region said they did not have enough masks and medical equipment.

With the number of known cases soaring past 115,000, the highest tally in the world, Trump said he might impose a quarantine on New York, and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut to protect other states that have yet to bear the brunt.

“They’re having problems down in Florida. A lot of New Yorkers are going down. We don’t want that,” Trump told reporters.

Since the virus first appeared in the United States in late January, Trump has vacillated between playing down the risks of infection and urging Americans to take steps to slow its spread.

Trump has also been reluctant to invoke emergency powers to order U.S. companies to produce much-needed medical supplies, despite the pleas of governors and hospital workers.

He also appeared to soften his previous comments calling for the U.S. economy to be reopened by mid-April. “We’ll see what happens,” he said.

It was not clear whether Trump would be able to block road, air and sea travel out of a region that serves as the economic engine of the eastern United States, accounting for 10 percent of the population and 12 percent of GDP.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he had no details on a possible quarantine order.

“I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know how that would be legally enforceable, and from a medical point of view I don’t know what you would be accomplishing,” Cuomo told reporters. “I don’t even like the sound of it.”

Some states have already imposed limits on interstate travel. New Yorkers arriving in Florida and Rhode Island face orders to self-isolate if they intend to stay, and West Virginia Governor Jim Justice asked New Yorkers to avoid citizens in his state.

New coronavirus cases in China leveled off after the government imposed a strict lockdown of Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease.

The body count continues to climb in Italy, where authorities have blocked travel across the country and prevented people from leaving their houses for all but essential reasons.

In the United States, the number of cases stood at 119,327 on Saturday afternoon with at least 1,992 deaths, according to a Reuters tally. The number of cases in the United States eclipsed those of China and Italy on Thursday.

TOO LATE FOR A LOCKDOWN?

Trump said any New York-area lockdown would only apply to people leaving the region. It would not cover truckers making deliveries or driving through the area, he said.

U.S. courts would likely uphold a presidentially imposed quarantine, but Trump would not be able to enlist local police to enforce it, said Louisiana State University law professor Edward Richards.

“The logistics of deciding who is an essential person or essential cargo could shut down the ability to transport essential personnel and supplies,” he said.

Even if it were possible, a New York-area lockdown might come too late for the rest of the country.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Southern California was on track to match New York City’s infection figures in the next week.

In New Orleans, where Mardi Gras celebrations late last month fueled an outbreak, the number of coronavirus patients “have been staggering,” said Sophia Thomas, a nurse practitioner at DePaul Community Health Center.

American healthcare workers are appealing for more protective gear and equipment as a surge in patients pushes hospitals to their limits.

Doctors are also especially concerned about a shortage of ventilators, machines that help patients breathe and are widely needed for those suffering from COVID-19, the pneumonia-like respiratory ailment caused by the highly contagious novel coronavirus.

Hospitals have also sounded the alarm about scarcities of drugs, oxygen tanks and trained staff.

On Saturday, nurses protested outside the Jacobi Medical Center in New York, saying supervisors asked them to reuse their masks, putting their own health at risk.

“The masks are supposed to be one-time use,” one nurse said, according to videos posted online.

One medical trainee at New York Presbyterian Hospital said they were given just one mask.

“It’s not the people who are making these decisions that go into the patients’ rooms,” said the trainee, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

 

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel, Gabriella Borter and Brendan Pierson in New York, and Joel Schectman, Andy Sullivan and Michelle Price in Washington; and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill passes U.S. House, Trump signs into law

U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order on immigration policy in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in history – to help cope with the economic downturn inflicted by the intensifying coronavirus pandemic, and President Donald Trump quickly signed it into law.

The massive bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives nearly unanimously. The rare bipartisan action underscored how seriously Republican and Democratic lawmakers are taking the global pandemic that has killed more than 1,500 Americans and shaken the nation’s medical system.

“Our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst pandemic in over 100 years,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the close of a three-hour debate before the lower chamber approved the bill. “Whatever we do next, right now we’re going to pass this legislation.”

The massive bill also rushes billions of dollars to medical providers on the front lines of the outbreak.

But the bipartisan spirit seemed to end at the White House. Neither Pelosi nor Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer was invited to Trump’s all-Republican signing ceremony for the bill, aides said.

Their Republican counterparts, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, did attend, along with three Republican House members.

“This will deliver urgently needed relief to our nation’s families, workers and businesses,” Trump said. “I really think in a fairly short period of time … we’ll be stronger than ever.”

In an statement about signing the bill, Trump rejected aspects of a provision in the law setting up an inspector general to audit some loans and investments.

Asked about the statement, Pelosi told MSNBC: “Congress will exercise its oversight and we will have our panel … appointed by the House, in real time to make sure we know where those funds are being expended.”

She called Trump a “dangerous president” who had chosen to ignore the threat of the coronavirus.

“Our next thrust will be about recovery and how we can create good-paying jobs so that we can take the country into the future in a very strong way,” Pelosi said.

The Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, turning back a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who had sought to force a formal, recorded vote.

To keep Massie’s gambit from delaying the bill’s passage, hundreds of lawmakers from both parties returned to Washington despite the risk of contracting coronavirus. For many, that meant long drives or overnight flights.

One member who spent hours in a car was Republican Representative Greg Pence, the brother of Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump has put in charge of efforts to handle the coronavirus crisis.

Pence drove the nearly 600 miles (966 km) from his home state, Indiana, to Washington on Thursday. “We can’t afford to wait another minute,” he said on Twitter.

‘THIRD-RATE GRANDSTANDER’

Massie wrote on Twitter that he thought the bill contained too much extraneous spending and gave too much power to the Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank. His fellow lawmakers overruled his request for a recorded vote.

Trump attacked Massie on Twitter, calling him a “third rate Grandstander” and saying he should be thrown out of the Republican party. “He just wants the publicity,” wrote the president, who last week began pushing for urgent action on coronavirus after long downplaying the risk.

Democratic and Republican leaders had asked members to return to Washington to ensure there would be enough present to head off Massie’s gambit. The session was held under special rules to limit the spread of the disease among members.

At least five members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than two dozen have self-quarantined to limit its spread.

The Senate, which approved the bill in a unanimous vote late on Wednesday, has adjourned and is not scheduled to return to Washington until April 20.

Democratic and Republican House leaders appeared together at a news conference at the Capitol to celebrate the bill’s passage – an unusual event for a chamber that is normally sharply divided along partisan lines.

“The virus is here. We did not ask for it, we did not invite it. We did not choose it. But with the passing of the bill you will see that we will fight it together, and we will win together,” McCarthy said.

He did not say whether Massie would face any disciplinary measures from the party.

The rescue package is the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

It 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.

The number of coronavirus cases in the United States exceeded 100,000 on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, the most of any country.

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

(Reporting by David Morgan, Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Daniel Wallis and Stephen Coates)

U.S. House approves $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill, sends to Trump

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in American history – to help individuals and companies cope with an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak and provide hospitals with urgently needed medical supplies.

The massive bill, also passed by the Republican-controlled Senate late on Wednesday, now goes to Republican President Donald Trump who is expected to promptly sign it into law.

Democrats and Republicans in the Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, turning back a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who had sought to force a formal, recorded vote.

Massie, an independent-minded Republican who has repeatedly defied party leaders, said on Twitter that he thought the bill contained too much extraneous spending and gave too much power to the Federal Reserve. He did not speak on the House floor during the three-hour debate.

Trump called Massie a “third rate Grandstander” on Twitter and said he should be thrown out of the Republican Party.

“He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay,” Trump wrote.

Other said he was putting lawmakers’ health at risk.

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than two dozen have self-quarantined to limit its spread.

“Thomas Massie, this is disgusting. This is inhumane,” Democratic Representative Max Rose said on Fox News.

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 Senate unanimously on Wednesday night.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

It 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.

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.

The United States surpassed China and Italy on Thursday as the country with the most coronavirus cases. The number of U.S. cases passed 85,000, and the death toll exceeded 1,200.

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

(Reporting by David Morgan, Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Jonathan Oatis)

‘A Twilight Zone’: U.S. takes shelter against coronavirus as Trump seeks economic stimulus

By Doina Chiacu and Maria Caspani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the streets of U.S. cities emptied in response to stepped-up warnings about the coronavirus threat, the Trump administration on Tuesday pursued a $850 billion stimulus package to buttress the economy and weighed a plan to send Americans $1,000 checks.

With the number of reported U.S. cases of the respiratory illness surging past 5,000, millions of Americans hunkered down in their homes instead of commuting to work or school as New York and other major cities escalated “social distancing” policies by closing schools, bars, restaurants and theaters. U.S. deaths from the coronavirus now exceed 90.

In one of the most restrictive policies to date, officials in six San Francisco Bay Area counties ordered residents to stay home beginning on Tuesday for all but the most crucial outings until April 7. The order applies to some 6.7 million people.

“It’s like living in a ‘Twilight Zone.’ It’s crazy. Just a week ago things were so different. You can feel the anxiety in the air,” said Rowan Oake, 36, during a jog through San Francisco’s Presidio Park.

But sounding a note of optimism, President Donald Trump said he believed the hard-hit U.S. economy would come back rapidly when the coronavirus spread slows and that progress is being made against the pathogen.

The administration was seeking $850 billion for a stimulus package, according to a U.S. government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The package would include $50 billion for airlines – hard hit by the pandemic – and $250 billion for small business loans.

“We’re going to win and I think we’re going to win faster than people think, I hope,” said Trump from the White House briefing room, surrounded by top advisers on the coronavirus crisis.

Trump said his administration was considering whether to send checks to individual Americans of $1,000 to help them weather the crisis, though he indicated details needed to be worked out.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested there would be some sort of an income restriction on such a step. “I think it’s clear. We don’t need to send people who make a million dollars a year checks.”

Mnuchin said he would meet with lawmakers to discuss the stimulus plan on Tuesday and that he was expecting bipartisan support. The Senate later in the day was prepared to take up a multibillion-dollar emergency spending bill passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday.

Travel restrictions within the United States are also being considered, Trump said, adding that he hopes a national lockdown would not be necessary.

ST. PATRICK’S DAY GLOOM

It was St. Patrick’s Day but the mood was sober, not joyous, after traditional parades and parties celebrating the Irish heritage of many Americans were canceled across the country and usually crowded pubs were shuttered.

Even so, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio used the occasion to rally his city, hailing the “indomitable spirit” of America’s Irish immigrants, many of whom have settled in New York.

“New York City’s streets may be empty this St. Patrick’s Day, but thanks to that very same spirit, our hearts are full,” he wrote on Twitter.

Earlier, the mayor told CNN he would consider imposing a similar shelter-in-place directive to the one undertaken in San Francisco for the most populous U.S. city.

Wall Street rebounded on Tuesday following its steepest declines since the 1987 crash, as the Federal Reserve took more steps to boost liquidity in a market sapped by business and travel disruptions due to the pandemic.

The benchmark S&P 500 <.SPX> was up more than 4% after the central bank relaunched a financial crisis-era purchase of short-term corporate debt.

Mnuchin said it may get to a point where shortening market trading hours would be needed, but that the intention is to keep markets open.

PRIMARY ELECTIONS

The coronavirus also affected politics as three states hold primary elections on Tuesday in the state-by-state process of selecting a Democratic candidate to challenge Trump in the Nov. 3 U.S. election.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders square off in Florida, Illinois and Arizona, but Ohio officials canceled that state’s primary due to coronavirus fears hours before the vote was to begin.

The tally of confirmed U.S. cases has multiplied quickly over the past few weeks as testing increased, surpassing 5,200 and prompting fears American hospitals might soon be overwhelmed, as Italian medical centers have been strained to the breaking point by the pandemic.

New York, Washington state and California have the most confirmed cases with Washington accounting for the majority of fatalities with 48, many linked to an outbreak at a nursing home in the Seattle area.

The United States has lagged behind other industrialized nations in its ability to test for the novel coronavirus, making it more difficult to track the contagion.

After previously downplaying the danger and declaring the situation under control, the White House urged Americans on Monday to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and called for closing bars, restaurants and other venues in states where local virus transmission exists.

Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, would not say whether the Trump administration was closer to issuing some sort of domestic travel restriction.

“We’re looking very carefully at the data every day and that’s why you see this escalation in guidelines from the president,” she told Fox News.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Maria Caspani in New York. Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Lisa Lambert, David Shepardson and Susan Heavey, Joseph Ax, Gabriella Borter, Barbara Goldberg, Brendan O’Brien, Robin Respaut and Greg Mitchell; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Senate weighs emergency coronavirus pandemic funds; Trump seeks $850 billion more

By David Shepardson and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Tuesday prepared to weigh a multibillion-dollar emergency spending bill passed by the House of Representatives offering economic relief from the coronavirus pandemic as the Trump administration pressed for $850 billion more.

The House of Representatives over the weekend passed a measure that would require sick leave for some workers and expand unemployment compensation among other steps, including nearly $1 billion in additional money to help feed children, homebound senior citizens and others.

Even before Congress passed its second measure in days, President Donald Trump’s administration wants massive additional spending to help blunt the impact of the fast-spreading disease, which has sunk global financial markets and caused sweeping disruptions to the U.S. economy.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin planned to discuss the $850 billion stimulus package the administration wants when meeting on Tuesday with Senate Republicans at the Capitol, said a U.S. government official said who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal deliberations.

The funding would include some aid for airlines along with a payroll tax cut among other provisions. U.S. airlines have sought at least $50 billion in grants and loans.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton, in a syndicated radio interview, said lawmakers could pass the House measure as-is and then take on another bill to include more economic stimulus actions desired by the administration.

The pandemic has already killed at least 83 people in the United States and prompted widespread closings of schools, restaurants and social gatherings of all kinds.

Early Saturday, Congress passed and Trump signed an $8.3 billion package to battle the coronavirus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate is “anxious” to pass the latest House-passed bill, an action that could happen later on Tuesday.

Republicans said the Senate would work to pass the third measure this week containing the much-larger stimulus because of uncertainty about the Senate schedule caused by the coronavirus outbreak. That would require the House to take up the legislation when it returns from recess next week.

But neither administration officials nor Senate leaders are sure that such a large bill could move that quickly through the Senate.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Susan Heavey, additional reporting by David Morgan and Jeff Mason; editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio)

U.S. cities go quiet as officials step up coronavirus warnings

By Doina Chiacu and Maria Caspani

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The streets of major U.S. cities were eerily empty on Tuesday morning after officials from President Donald Trump on down stepped up warnings about the coronavirus pandemic, while the number of cases mushroomed and deaths topped 80.

Millions of Americans hunkered down in their homes instead of commuting to work or school. New York and other major cities escalated “social distancing” policies by closing schools, bars, restaurants and theaters.

Officials in six San Francisco Bay Area counties on Monday ordered residents to stay at home for all but the most crucial outings until April 7. That directive came a day after California Governor Gavin Newsom urged adults older than 65, and their caretakers, to remain indoors whether or not they have underlying health conditions.

It was St. Patrick’s Day but the mood was sober, not joyous, after traditional parades and parties celebrating the Irish heritage of many Americans were cancelled across the country.

Financial markets will look to stabilize after the stock market suffered a historic loss on Monday. The S&P 500 tumbled 12 percent, its worst single-day loss since the stock market crash of 1987.

But politics will proceed mostly as scheduled in three of four states that have primary elections on Tuesday to select a Democratic presidential candidate to challenge Trump in the November general elections.

Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders square off in Florida, Illinois and Arizona, but Ohio officials canceled their primary due to coronavirus fears hours before the vote was to begin.

The tally of confirmed U.S. cases has multiplied quickly over the past few weeks, surpassing 4,600 and prompting fears American hospitals might soon be overwhelmed, as Italian medical centers have been strained to the breaking point.

At least 83 people in the United States had died of the virus, as of Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University and various state and local public health agencies, with the hardest-hit state, Washington, accounting for the bulk of the fatalities, including six more announced on Monday.

The United States has lagged behind other industrializednations in its ability to test for the novel coronavirus. Inearly March, the Trump administration said close to one milliontests would soon be available and anyone who needed a test wouldget one, a promise it failed to keep.

After previously downplaying the danger and declaring the situation under control, the White House urged Americans on Monday to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and called for closing bars, restaurants and other venues in states where local virus transmission exists.

The president’s change in tone followed newly urgent messaging from governors and mayors across the country who have taking their own drastic measures.

The states of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut struck a regional agreement to close all movie theaters, casinos and gyms as of 8 p.m. Monday (0000 GMT). Restaurants and bars in the three states – where more than 22 million people live – will serve takeout and delivery only.

Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, would not say whether the Trump administration was close to issuing some sort of domestic travel restriction.

“We’re looking very carefully at the data every day and that’s why you see this escalation in guidelines from the president,” she said on Fox News.

She said integrating data and understanding how the new outbreaks are occurring – from travel between states, or within states – is crucial to formulating the response and updating guidelines.

“As we track down these outbreaks, if we see that that is happening from flight travel, then I think the president will react but we don’t have enough information right now to suggest that,” she said.

Asked if people were getting sick on airplanes, Birx said, “We don’t know.”

Birx also said authorities remain focused on ramping up testing in communities “so that people in the hospitals are not overrun by continuous need for diagnosis.”

In one ray of positive news, actor Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson, who tested positive for coronavirus last week, are out of a hospital in Australia, according to a video posted by their son Chet on Instagram.

“They’re still self-quarantined obviously, but they are feeling a lot better,” he said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiucu and Maria Caspani; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Trump urges U.S. to halt most social activity in virus fight, warns of recession

By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump urged Americans on Monday to halt most social activities for 15 days and not congregate in groups larger than 10 people in a newly aggressive effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.

Announcing new guidelines from his coronavirus task force, the president said people should avoid discretionary travel and not go to bars, restaurants, food courts or gyms.

As stocks tumbled, Trump warned that a recession was possible, a development that could affect his chances of re-election in November. The Republican president said he was focused on addressing the health crisis and that the economy would get better once that was in line.

The task force implored young people to follow the new guidelines even though they were at lesser risk of suffering if they contract the virus. Older people, especially those with underlying health problems, are at the greatest risk if they develop the respiratory disease.

“We’ve made the decision to further toughen the guidelines and blunt the infection now,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We’d much rather be ahead of the curve than behind it.”

Reporters staggered their seating, sitting in every other seat in the White House briefing room, to follow social distancing measures.

Trump said the worst of the virus could be over by July, August or later. He called it an invisible enemy.

“With several weeks of focused action, we can turn the corner and turn it quickly,” he said.

The president has taken criticism for playing down the seriousness of the virus in the early days of its U.S. spread. On Monday, when asked, he gave himself a good grade for his response.

Trump said a nationwide curfew was not under consideration at this point.

Normally a cheerleader for the U.S. economy, he acknowledged the possibility of a recession while brushing off another dramatic decline on stock markets as investors worried about the virus.

“The market will take care of itself,” Trump said, adding it would be very strong once the virus was handled. The president has long considered soaring stock markets to be a sign of his administration’s success.

Trump said the administration had talked regularly about domestic travel restrictions but hoped not to have to put such measures in place.

He said he thought it would still be possible for G7 leaders to meet at the Camp David retreat in Maryland in June. Trump upset European countries, which make up a large part of the G7, by instituting travel restrictions from European countries without consulting with them first.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Timothy Ahmann, Lisa Lambert and Makini Brice; Editing by Peter Cooney)