Americans are set to be sent cheques within the next two weeks to support them during the coronavirus outbreak, while field hospitals are to be set up to deal with patients.
US President Donald Trump said sending direct cash payments to Americans as part of a promised $850bn (£705.4bn) economic stimulus package would be faster than a payroll tax holiday he had earlier suggested.
Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin told a press briefing on Tuesday: “We’re looking at sending cheques to Americans immediately.
“And I mean, now, in the next two weeks.”
An exact figure was not mentioned but some US politicians, including Republican senator Mitt Romney, have discussed cash payments of $1,000 (£830), which Mr Mnuchin said was “one of the ideas we like” – but not for millionaires.
The stock market rose during the briefing after a substantial drop on Monday when Mr Trump announced a 15-day attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19 by avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people, working from home if possible, postponing unnecessary travel and not eating in bars and restaurants.
Vowing that the virus will be defeated, Mr Trump said: “One day we’re going to stand up here and say: ‘We won’.”
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Across the US, 5,702 people had been infected by Tuesday, while 94 people have died – 48 in Washington state.
The White House is asking US Congress to approve the massive emergency rescue package to help businesses and taxpayers cope during the pandemic.
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It includes tax cuts for workers, $50bn (£40bn) for the airline industry and relief for small businesses.
Mr Mnuchin also announced that field hospitals could be set up very quickly to deal with coronavirus patients and said the Army Corps of Engineers is ready to retrofit buildings to be used as hospitals.
The president added that there will be a “dramatic expansion” of telehealth for Medicare patients – about 52m people aged 65 and older and eight million younger people with disabilities who get federal health insurance.
He said laws have been lifted under the national emergency he announced at the weekend to allow any doctor to provide appointments via phone or video for those covered by the policy.
The Trump administration has been heavily criticised for the country’s lack of coronavirus testing capabilities, but the president said he was lifting a ban on states approving new tests so governors could authorise tests developed in their borders without federal approval.
For Americans who have the virus, he said they are looking to pass a law to enable sick leave for workers and give small businesses support.
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Mr Trump said he had spoken to bosses of the country’s largest fast food outlets, such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King, to get them to agree to keep their drive-thru and delivery services going during the 15-day lockdown, in which people are not allowed to go to restaurants.
Mr Mnuchin said: “We want states to keep drive-thrus open. These companies feed a big part of America and I suspect they’re going to feed a bigger part now.
“Many of these companies have apps, you order ahead of time, they can give it to you with social distancing.”
He added that they wanted to keep markets open so Americans know they can have access to their money, but warned market hours may be shortened.
The treasury secretary encouraged Americans to file their taxes by 15 April as many will get refunds.
But, he also announced they could defer personal tax payments of up to $1m to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and $10m for corporations for 90 days interest and penalty free.