WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Tuesday pursued a $1 trillion stimulus package to buttress an economy hit by coronavirus fears that could deliver $1,000 checks to Americans within two weeks, while New York said it might order residents of the most populous U.S. city to stay at home.
With the number of reported U.S. cases of the respiratory illness surging past 5,800 and deaths approaching 100, 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.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would decide within two days whether to order residents to “shelter in place” to fight the spread of the virus. The move would largely confine people to their homes in the city of roughly 8.5 million but probably let them make necessary trips to the grocery or pharmacy.
“It’s a very, very difficult decision,” de Blasio said. “We’ve never been here before. I have never heard of anything like this in the history of New York City.”
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that state’s first coronavirus death and said 22 other people had been infected at a nursing home in suburban Chicago. In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy closed amusement parks and indoor shopping malls as a record number of unemployment applications crashed state computer systems.
In Minnesota, the Mall of America, the nation’s largest enclosed shopping center, said it would close through the end of the month. Sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles were ordered to write more tickets and make fewer arrests, to keep jail crowding to a minimum.
Vice President Mike Pence said the White House may have the U.S. military establish field hospitals in virus hot zones if requested by state governors, or use the Army Corps of Engineers to add capacity to existing hospitals.
New York, Washington state and California have the most confirmed cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness.
In one of the most restrictive policies already in place, officials ordered residents of the San Francisco Bay area, some 6.7 million people, to stay home beginning for all but the most crucial outings until April 7.
“It’s like living in a ‘Twilight Zone,’” said Rowan Oake, 36, during a jog through San Francisco’s Presidio Park. “You can feel the anxiety in the air.”
President Donald Trump said progress is being made against the fast-spreading pathogen and predicted the U.S. economy would “come roaring back” when it slows.
“It’s going to pop,” said Trump, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 3.
The Republican president’s tone on the coronavirus pandemic has changed sharply in the last few days. After initially playing down the threat and focusing on the stock market, his administration has begun pushing for urgent action to stem the disease’s economic and human toll.
His administration sought more than $1 trillion for a stimulus package, which would include $50 billion for hard-hit airlines facing bankruptcy and $250 billion for small business loans.
“We’re going big,” Trump said, describing the health crisis as a war against an “invisible enemy.”
‘GAG AND VOTE FOR IT’
Trump, surrounded by top advisers at the White House briefing room, said his administration was considering a plan to send checks to individual Americans of $1,000 to help them weather the crisis, though he indicated details needed to be worked out.
High earners might not qualify for payments, which could be sent within the next two weeks, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said his chamber would this week pass a multibillion-dollar emergency spending bill cleared by the House of Representatives on Saturday, despite concerns from some Republicans.
He said he told them to “gag and vote for it anyway.”
McConnell said the Senate would not leave town until it passes a follow-up package.
The House bill would require paid sick leave for workers, expand unemployment compensation and provide nearly $1 billion in additional money to help feed children, homebound senior citizens and others during the outbreak.
The Senate would then turn to a follow-on aid package, he said.
U.S. stocks jumped on Tuesday, a day after their steepest declines since the 1987 crash, as the Federal Reserve took further steps to boost liquidity as the coronavirus pandemic grips the global economy and markets.
The benchmark S&P 500 .SPX closed up 6% 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.
Trump said travel restrictions within the United States are being considered.
“You can do a national lockdown. Hopefully, we’re not going to need that,” Trump said. “It’s a very big step.”
He asked Americans to avoid traveling and urged them to “buy less” when they go to stores after nationwide reports of anxious shoppers emptying grocery store shelves.
“We’re asking our older generation to stay in their homes. … We’re asking the younger generation to stop going out,” said Trump coronavirus adviser Deborah Birx.
It was St. Patrick’s Day but the mood was sober, not joyous, after parades and parties celebrating the Irish heritage of many Americans were canceled around the country and bars were shuttered. Florida’s governor said bars and nightclubs in his state would close for 30 days.
Voters in Florida, Illinois and Arizona were met by gloved poll workers and hand sanitizer as they cast ballots on Tuesday in the state-by-state process of selecting a Democratic challenger to Trump in the Nov. 3 U.S. election.
Former Vice President Joe Biden looked to bolster his dominant lead over rival Senator Bernie Sanders. Ohio officials postponed that state’s primary due to coronavirus fears hours before voting was to begin.
GRAPHIC: Tracking the spread of the global coronavirus – here
Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen in New York. Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper, Jeff Mason, David Morgan, Lisa Lambert, David Shepardson, Susan Heavey, Nathan Layne, Lisa Shumaker, Joseph Ax, Jill Serjeant, Dan Whitcomb, Gabriella Borter, Barbara Goldberg, Brendan O’Brien, Michael Erman and Robin Respaut; Writing by Will Dunham and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman