March 29, 2020

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Coronavirus Live Updates: Trump Says He Wants to Rush Development of Vaccine and Treatments

Coronavirus Live Updates: Trump Says He Wants to Rush Development of Vaccine and Treatments


President Trump, whose administration has been under immense pressure to increase testing capacity as cases of cases of coronavirus soar in the United States, said on Thursday that his administration had “slashed red tape” to develop vaccines and therapies “as fast as it can possibly be done” and scaling access to treatments that had shown promise, despite the fact that many of the treatments are in their early stages.

Mr. Trump, flanked by Dr. Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner; Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator; and Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, repeated an announcement from earlier this week that human testing on a vaccine trial had begun, and said that the government would be pursuing more antiviral therapies to treat the virus.

“Essentially we’re looking at things to make people better, or at the earliest stages they didn’t even know they had it,” Mr. Trump said. “I’ve directed the F.D.A. to eliminate outdated rules and bureaucracy so this work can proceed rapidly, quickly, and I mean fast.”

Mr. Trump said that the F.D.A. had approved “compassionate use” for a number of patients, which is the approval for ill patients to use a drug that has not yet been approved by the F.D.A. Compassionate use is typically used to grant access to not-yet-approved experimental drugs to give potentially life-saving treatments to patients who might otherwise die.

After the president spent a significant of time extolling the virtues of treatments for the disease and declaring that his administration had slashed regulatory tape surrounding treatment testing, Dr. Hahn took the stage and gently couched Mr. Trump’s assertions.

“What’s also important is not to provide false hope,” he said. “We may have the right drug, but it might not be in the appropriate dosage form right now, and it might do more harm than good.”

There is no proven drug treatment for the new coronavirus, and doctors around the world have been desperately testing an array of medicines in hopes of finding something that will help patients, especially those who are severely ill. Several antiviral drugs have been considered possible treatments, though so far none has proved effective.

Mr. Trump said that hydroxychloroquine, an old and relatively inexpensive malaria treatment, has shown “encouraging early” results as a Covid-19 treatment. Dr. Hahn said that the president had directed the F.D.A. to look at available malaria treatments including chloroquine, but again reiterated that experts would be doing this within the context of a clinical trial.

Lab studies have indicated that the drug could keep the virus from invading human cells. Reports of its use in patients in China and France have suggested that it may help, but there is not enough data to be sure. Nonetheless, the idea is catching on, so much so that shortages of the drug are being reported.

“We know that if things don’t go as planned it’s not going to kill anybody,” Mr. Trump said. “When you go with a brand-new drug you don’t know if that’s going to happen.”

Mike Pence, the vice president, said that he and the president would meet by teleconference with the nation’s governors later Tuesday at FEMA headquarters, and said the organization would “take the lead” in the nation’s coronavirus response.

Mr. Pence said that testing is available in all 50 states, and “tens of thousands of tests” are being performed every day, despite widespread reports that Americans are struggling to access testing. Mr. Pence said companies including Honeywell and 3M would increase “by the millions” the number of available N-95 masks for healthcare workers, and said that the government was working to increase the number of ventilators that could be stockpiled to assist the patients with severe cases of the virus.

“We’ve identified tens of thousands of ventilators that can be converted to treat patients,” Mr. Pence said.

Dr. Birx said that a large backlog of pending tests would be released in the next two to three days. She said that 50 percent of reported coronavirus in the United States have come from 10 counties, and praised health care workers for prioritizing available tests for people who show symptoms, adding that the number of positive results had increased as a result.

Mr. Trump also said that he had signed into law a congressional relief package to help American workers, families and small businesses, which includes sick leave and medical leave for those affected by the virus. The president was wistful about the state of the economy, again saying that he thinks the economy will go up very rapidly.

“I don’t view it as an act of God. I would view it as something that just surprised the whole world. If people would have known about it, it could’ve been stopped in place. It could’ve been stopped right where it came from: China,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s too bad, because we never had an economy as good as the economy we had just a few weeks ago.”

Mr. Trump did not commit to a suggestion that he could prevent corporate executives from receiving bonuses and from allowing stock buybacks should his administration’s massive relief package be approved by Congress.

“As far as I’m concerned, conditions like that would be okay with me,” he said.

The president punted to Mr. Pence when asked if it was acceptable that current guidelines for health care workers include reusing masks. “We’re seeing a dramatic increase in production” of masks, Mr. Pence said, though he did not directly respond to a question from the president about when the masks would be in the hands of workers.

Senate Republicans racing to agree on a $1 trillion economic rescue package to prevent the country from teetering into economic collapse could have a draft ready as early as Thursday.

The majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said that his party was near a deal with the White House that would be the starting point for negotiations with Democrats.

The Trump administration’s proposal includes $500 billion for two waves of direct payments to taxpayers and an additional $500 billion in loans for businesses. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told colleagues that she is aware of concerns about including provisions on unemployment insurance, increased Medicaid funding and further assistance to small businesses.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the economic relief plan included payments of $1,000 for American adults and $500 per child sent within three weeks. It is not clear if Americans of every income bracket will be eligible for the payments or how they will be disbursed to those who do not have bank accounts. The Trump administration has proposed sending $500 billion directly to Americans in two waves.

“What we’re really focused on is providing liquidity to American businesses and American workers,” Mr. Mnuchin said on the Fox Business Network on Thursday. “This is an unprecedented situation.”

Mr. Mnuchin insisted that the Treasury and the Federal Reserve were working in lock step and were prepared to do whatever was necessary to provide liquidity to American companies so that they can weather the crisis without laying off workers.

He said that businesses that take advantage of emergency loans would be given loan forgiveness if they cannot pay them back.

He also suggested that the federal government was open to taking equity stakes in companies.

But a 1.4 percent case fatality rate still means a lot of deaths. By comparison, the average seasonal flu kills about 0.1 percent of the people it infects in the United States.

Also, on Thursday, China reported no new local infections for the previous day for the first time since the coronavirus crisis began, a milestone in its costly battle with the outbreak that has since spread around the world.

Officials said 34 new coronavirus cases had been confirmed, all of them involving people who had come to China from elsewhere.

In signaling that an end to China’s epidemic might be in sight, the announcement could pave the way for officials to focus on reviving the country’s economy, which nearly ground to a halt after the government imposed travel restrictions and quarantine measures. In recent days, economic life has been resuming in fits and starts.

But China is not out of danger. Experts have said that it will need to see at least 14 consecutive days without new infections for the outbreak to be considered over. It remains to be seen whether the virus will re-emerge once daily life restarts and travel restrictions are lifted.

“It’s very clear that the actions taken in China have almost brought to an end their first wave of infections,” said Ben Cowling, a professor and head of the division of epidemiology and biostatistics at Hong Kong University’s School of Public Health. “The question is what will happen if there’s a second wave, because the kind of measures that China has implemented are not necessarily sustainable in the long term.”

To contain the outbreak, the authorities shut schools and workplaces, imposed travel restrictions, and ordered quarantines on broad swaths of the population and many visitors from abroad. Since January, more than 50 million people in the central province of Hubei, including its capital, Wuhan, where the outbreak began, have been subjected to a strict lockdown.

“You have the potential then to spread it to someone who does have a condition that none of us knew about, and cause them to have a disastrous outcome,” Dr. Birx said.

In the C.D.C. report, 20 percent of the hospitalized patients and 12 percent of the intensive care patients were between the ages of 20 and 44, basically spanning the millennial generation.

The economic toll of the virus came into sharper focus Thursday as the Labor Department reported one of the largest one-week spikes in unemployment on record: Some 281,000 Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment insurance, up by 33 percent from 211,000 the week before.

Stocks slipped on Thursday, even as policymakers in the United States and Europe took more steps to offset sharp declines gripping their economies.

The S&P 500 fell more than 1 percent at the start of trading, and shares in Europe and Asia were also lower. The losses followed a steep drop in financial markets on Wednesday.

“The situation is terrible, really terrible,” said Dr. Niran Al-Agba, a pediatrician in Washington State who is treating her patients at curbside. “I don’t think we were prepared.”

Someone anonymously left two boxes of masks on her doorstep, and she has been spraying them with alcohol to make them last.

“After practicing for 20 years and being a third-generation doctor, I can tell you this is new territory,” Dr. Al-Agba said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever had to go to work and fear for our lives in the same way. “

In back-to-back statements on Wednesday, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, and Representative Ben McAdams, Democrat of Utah, both announced that they had fallen ill after voting on the House floor early Saturday, and subsequently tested positive for the virus.

Soon after, Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican, and Representative Drew Ferguson, his top deputy, said they would self-quarantine.

The news stoked anxiety that has been building among the 435 members of the House for days about the wisdom of gathering — in defiance of public health guidelines that warn against meetings of 10 people or more — to debate and vote in the House chamber.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that the House would return to Washington to consider additional economic relief legislation, and the Senate is in talks with the White House on a $1 trillion plan that could be approved within days.

Ms. Pelosi and other top Democrats have discussed instituting social distancing to limit the number of lawmakers on the House floor at one time, but resisted the idea of allowing members to vote remotely. News of the virus’s spread among lawmakers has fueled calls for her to change course.

“In. Person. Voting. Should. Be. Reconsidered,” Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Democrat of Florida, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “For the safety of our communities, during this emergency, we must be able to legislate from our districts.”

In Georgia, all members of the state legislature were asked to self-quarantine on Thursday after a state senator who voted at the Capitol this week tested positive for the coronavirus.

The senator, Brandon Beach, a Republican from the Atlanta suburbs, began experiencing symptoms last week and was tested over the weekend. Feeling better, he participated in a vote at the Capitol on Monday during a special session to ratify the governor’s order for a public health emergency. By Wednesday, he said, his results had come back positive.

“I felt better by Monday and thought I was in the clear,” Mr. Beach told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I know many Georgians are praying hard as we weather this crisis together,” he added. “Frankly, I’d ask that they pray for me, as well as all the others in our state who are going through this right now — and those who soon will.”

The announcement set off a chain of events in the Georgia General Assembly. The lieutenant governor, who also serves as president of the Senate, announced that he would self-quarantine, and lawmakers and staffers of the House and the Senate were asked to do the same until March 30.

State Representative Scot Turner, a Republican, condemned Mr. Beach for “irresponsibly” going to the Capitol and exposing others.

“I’m shaking with rage,” Mr. Turner said in a statement on Facebook, adding that he shared a home with a hospice patient. “I cannot remember the last time I’ve been this angry.”

Serbia, a nation in the heart of Europe that has long straddled the divide between east and west, has increasingly charted its own course as the coronavirus epidemic tears through the continent.

The country has long expressed a desire to join the European Union, but the crisis threatens to deepen a growing divide between Brussels and Belgrade.

“European solidarity does not exist,” President Aleksandar Vucic said this week as he announced a state of emergency in Serbia. “That was a fairy tale on paper.”

Because the European Union would not provide help or sell critical medical equipment, Mr. Vucic said that Serbia was turning to China.

Reporting and research were contributed by Michael Cooper, Katie Rogers, Elisabetta Povoledo, Niki Kitsantonis, Aurelien Breeden, Javier C. Hernández, Alisa Dogramadzieva, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Melissa Eddy, Lara Jakes, Ana Swanson, Nicholas Fandos, Emily Cochrane, Megan Twohey, Steve Eder, Mariel Padilla and Marc Stein.





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