US stimulus measures to contain the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak could exceed $2tn in the coming weeks, Donald Trump’s top economic adviser said on Saturday.
Larry Kudlow, director of Donald Trump’s National Economic Council, told reporters at the US Capitol that overall federal aid to combat the crisis could soon exceed 10 per cent of US gross domestic product — an amount equal to more than $2tn.
Much of that fiscal stimulus would come through a bipartisan congressional package that the US Senate hopes to pass by Monday.
On Saturday, Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said he had “just had a very good, very detailed phone call with [Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin . . . We discussed many of the outstanding issues and we are making very good progress. I have every expectation that this progress will continue throughout the day.”
The package is expected to include cash cheques sent directly to US households to help them cope with the economic impact of the widescale shutdown of American life.
“We’re not talking about a thousand dollar cheque, we’re talking about a lot more than that,” Mr Trump explained on Saturday. “And we’re also going to do it in phases, if this doesn’t work we’re going to keep doing it until we get it going.”
The legislation would also include billions of dollars worth of loans and loan guarantees to businesses hit by the outbreak, including airlines.
The number of US cases has climbed past 24,000, according to Johns Hopkins medical centre. Almost half of those were in the state of New York, which reported 3,200 new confirmed cases of the illness on Saturday, pushing the tally above 10,000. New York City itself accounts for about two-thirds of cases in the state.
Flights to and from the city were briefly halted on Saturday after two air traffic control workers tested positive.
In a sign the outbreak poses a threat to essential infrastructure, the Federal Aviation Administration said it had halted departures and arrivals to and from major airports in the area because of “staffing issues”.
Officials have since lifted the restrictions, which were imposed on JFK, Newark and LaGuardia.
The disruption came a day after the FAA said a technician at JFK’s control tower had tested positive. The technician had last visited the facility on Monday.
Then, on Saturday, the FAA said a trainee based in a site on Long Island had also contracted the virus. That individual was there as recently as Tuesday.
Affected areas were being sanitised and officials were trying to establish which personnel had recently interacted with them.
New York has drawn up emergency plans to house field hospitals in college campuses and conference centres — including Manhattan’s Javits Center — in a bid to increase state bed capacity by half, to at least 75,000. Elective surgeries at regular hospitals are to be suspended.
The American Hospital Association has warned some hospitals are running out of cash, at risk of not paying key staff, or even shutting down, as it called for $100bn in federal funding.
Hospitals that were already operating on slight margins are under financial pressure as they have cancelled more lucrative elective admissions and operations to make space for patients suffering from Covid-19.
This fall in income is compounded by the soaring cost of some medical supplies and temporary nurses, members of the association said on Saturday, while many need to create childcare facilities for the families of their medical staff.
“We remain seriously concerned about whether hospitals will stay afloat to weather the storm, given the financial challenges involved in meeting payroll, and having the staff, equipment and supplies,” said Rick Pollack, AHA President.
Officials across several states have warned of shortages of vital equipment, including protective gear for frontline workers, and ventilators. At the moment, one million N95 masks, which help shield wearers from the coronavirus, are being sent to New York City and 500,000 to Long Island, according to New York governor Andrew Cuomo.
Vice-president Mike Pence said the US government had ordered “hundreds of millions” of N-95 masks for healthcare facilities and hospitals across the country as the US confronts a shortage of medical supplies.
In a 90 minute press conference, Mr Trump said private companies, including Hanes and General Motors, had offered to step up and help make medical equipment. He added that he did not need to use the Defense Production Act, a law allowing the US government to mandate private companies to produce supplies needed for national defence.