US President Donald Trump has said he hopes the US will shake off coronavirus by Easter, even as New York’s governor sounded the alarm that the illness is spreading faster than “a bullet train”.
The president told a White House news briefing reopening the US early next month would be “a beautiful timeline”.
Hours later, the Senate agreed a $2 trillion (£1.7tn) economic rescue plan with the White House.
The deal will be passed later on Wednesday by the Senate.
“At last, we have a deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, citing the massive “wartime level of investment into our nation”.
The package includes tax rebates, loans, money for hospitals and rescue packages for businesses.
The House of Representatives still needs to pass the legislation before it is sent to Mr Trump for his signature.
The US has recorded almost 55,000 cases and nearly 800 deaths from coronavirus.
Globally there have been more than 420,000 cases confirmed and approaching 19,000 deaths.
What did President Trump say?
On Tuesday, he told Fox News he hoped the country could get back to normal by Easter, which is on the weekend of 12 April.
Mr Trump, a Republican, said: “We’re going to be opening relatively soon… I would love to have the country opened up and just rearing to go by Easter.”
He added in a subsequent interview: “Easter is a very special day for me… and you’ll have packed churches all over our country.”
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Mr Trump also warned that unless the country reopened for business it could suffer “a massive recession or depression”.
The president said: “You’re going to lose people. You’re going to have suicides by the thousands. You’re going to have all sorts of things happen. You’re going to have instability.”
Speaking at a White House briefing later, Mr Trump said he was beginning “to see the light at the end of the tunnel”, though he said “our decision will be based on hard facts and data”.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told the same press briefing: “No-one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City.”
What’s happening in New York?
With more than 25,000 coronavirus cases by Tuesday morning, the Empire state accounted for half of all US infections.
Dr Deborah Birx, of the White House coronavirus taskforce, said on Tuesday the New York City metro area is the source of 60% of all new cases in the US.
She advised anyone leaving the region to self-quarantine for two weeks.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, told another news conference on Tuesday: “The [infection] forecaster said to me, ‘We were looking at a freight train coming across the country.’
“‘We’re now looking at a bullet train.'”
He added: “New York is the canary in the coal mine, New York is happening first, what is happening to New York will happen to California and Illinois, it is just a matter of time.”
The governor said New York’s hospital system will soon reach breaking point unless the US Federal Emergency Management Agency urgently sends more healthcare supplies.
“You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators,” Mr Cuomo said.
New York currently has 7,000 medical ventilators – machines used to keep patients breathing – but needs 30,000, the governor said.
A tale of two media events
On Tuesday afternoon, Donald Trump sat in the verdant White House grounds for a Fox News “virtual town hall” and said he hoped to get US businesses reopened by Easter, in just over two weeks.
“A great American resurrection,” the Fox host suggested.
A few hours earlier, Governor Cuomo held a much more sombre press conference at the Javits Center in Manhattan. The building, which three years ago hosted Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated election-night party, is now a makeshift field hospital.
The president and the governor – two New Yorkers with a long history – clashed over the state’s shortage of ventilators to treat the most serious cases.
Mr Trump blamed Mr Cuomo for not purchasing more in 2015, citing a conspiracy-mongering website. Mr Cuomo said the administration should use its emergency powers to order more machines manufactured.
When it comes to easing the recent shelter-in-place orders, governors like Mr Cuomo, not the president, will have the final say.
If there’s disagreement, however, the American public could be left wondering what to believe.
What is the current US situation?
The US is more than halfway through a 15-day attempt to slow the spread of the virus through social distancing.
The voluntary guidelines were issued by a government public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But while the president has been talking of easing restrictions, state and local leaders nationwide have been rapidly ratcheting up controls to contain the infection.
On Tuesday, Wisconsin, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Mexico, West Virginia and Indiana introduced stay-at-home orders, bringing the total number of US states under such lockdowns to 17.
In other developments:
- A New Jersey man has been charged with making a terroristic threat after he coughed on an employee of a Wegmans supermarket during an argument on Monday, and then claimed to have coronavirus. Governor Phil Murphy described the suspect as a “knucklehead”
- A 26-year-old in Missouri was arrested on Monday and charged with making a terrorist threat after he posted a video earlier this month of himself licking deodorants at a Walmart store while asking: “Who’s scared of the coronavirus?”
- An individual in Kentucky tested positive after attending a “coronavirus party”, according to the state’s governor, who added: “Don’t be so callous as to intentionally go to something and expose yourself to something that can kill other people”
- A 31-year-old Mexican national detained by US immigration officials in New Jersey became the first individual to test positive for Covid-19 while in the agency’s custody