Covid-19 Live Updates: Senate to Consider Scaled-Back Stimulus Bill

Senate Republicans plan to move forward with a scaled-back stimulus package.

As senators returned to Washington on Tuesday, their leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, announced that the Senate would vote to advance a scaled-back stimulus plan, which is expected to reinstate lapsed federal unemployment benefits at $300 per week — half their previous level — and allocate $105 billion for schools and funds for testing and the Postal Service, according to Republican aides familiar with the discussions.

The plan represents an effort to intensify pressure on Democratic leaders, who want to fully restore the $600 unemployment benefits and have refused to consider any measure below $2.2 trillion.

“It does not contain every idea our party likes,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “I am confident Democrats will feel the same. Yet Republicans believe the many serious differences between our two parties should not stand in the way of agreeing where we can agree and making law that helps our nation.”

He added, “I will make sure every Senate Democrat who has said they’d like to reach an agreement gets the opportunity to walk the walk.”

The Republicans’ bill would carry a price tag of $500 billion to $700 billion, far less than the $3.4 trillion measure Democrats passed in the House and smaller than the $1 trillion measure Senate Republicans introduced in July. A procedural vote advancing the legislation could come as early as this week, Mr. McConnell said. Democrats are likely to block it. In a letter to his caucus, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, called the bill “emaciated” and urged Democrats to push for “another comprehensive, bipartisan bill that meets the moment facing our nation.”

Nine drug companies issued a joint pledge on Tuesday that they would “stand with science” and not put forward a vaccine until it had been thoroughly vetted for safety and efficacy.

The companies did not rule out seeking an emergency authorization of their vaccines, but promised that any potential coronavirus vaccine would be decided based on “large, high quality clinical trials” and that the companies would follow guidance from regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration.

“We believe this pledge will help ensure public confidence in the rigorous scientific and regulatory process by which Covid-19 vaccines are evaluated and may ultimately be approved,” the companies said.

President Trump has repeatedly claimed that a vaccine could be available before Election Day, Nov. 3, heightening fears that his administration is politicizing the race by scientists to develop a vaccine and potentially undermining public trust in any vaccine approved.

“We’ll have the vaccine soon, maybe before a special date,” the president said on Monday. “You know what date I’m talking about.”

Three of the companies that signed the pledge are testing their candidate vaccines in late-stage clinical trials in the United States: Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. But only Pfizer has said that it could apply to the F.D.A. for emergency approval as early as October, while the other two have said they hope to have a vaccine by the end of the year.

Late last week, Moncef Slaoui, the top scientist on Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to quickly bring a vaccine to market, warned in an interview with National Public Radio that the chance of successful vaccine results by October was “very, very low.”

In the nine companies’ statement on Tuesday, they did not mention Mr. Trump, saying only that they have “a united commitment to uphold the integrity of the scientific process.”

The other six companies that signed the pledge were BioNTech, which is developing the vaccine in partnership with Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novavax, and Sanofi. Plans for the pledge were first made public on Friday.

India now leads the world in new daily reported coronavirus cases and has the second-highest number of cases globally, surpassing Brazil on Monday. In the northern Indian state of Punjab, where cases have surged, lockdowns have been imposed again.

The measures, economists say, are forcing millions of households into poverty and contributing to a long-running tragedy: farmer suicides.

Farm bankruptcies and debts have been the source of misery in the country for decades, but experts say the suffering has reached new levels in the pandemic.

“This crisis is the making of this government,” said Vikas Rawal, a professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, the capital. Mr. Rawal, who has spent the last 25 years studying agrarian distress in India, said that he believes thousands of people who live and work on farms have most likely killed themselves in the past few months.

India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. In 2019, 10,281 farmers and farm laborers died by killing themselves across the country, according to statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau. Taking one’s own life is a crime in India, and experts have said for years that the actual numbers are far higher.

Few of the recent examples among farmers have been reported in the Indian news media, according to Mr. Rawal. “It’s hard to say exactly how many because there was massive underreporting of deaths, and even the media could not reach the hinterland because of the lockdown,” he said.

Over the past five years, farmer suicides in Punjab increased by more than 12 times, according to government data. Three to four farm deaths are reported in the local news almost every day.

The state’s lush green fields mask decades of crippling debt and abuse of land. In the 1960s, the government introduced the high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat that eventually made India self-sufficient in grains. But over the years, groundwater dropped to critical levels.

Farmers, struggling to save their crops, dug their bore wells even deeper. And to fend off increasing pest attacks, they loaded their fields with chemicals. The skyrocketing agricultural costs forced many farmers to take on more debt, and crop failures over the years eventually destroyed generations of rural families.

Randhir Singh, a deeply indebted cotton farmer in Punjab, killed himself in May.

“This is what we feared,” said his son, Rashpal Singh, 22, in his family home in the village of Sirsiwala. “The lockdown killed my father.”

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, said on Tuesday that the country’s success in suppressing its coronavirus outbreak was a vindication of Communist Party rule.

Mr. Xi spoke during a televised ceremony to honor doctors, nurses, local officials and others who party officials said had made an outstanding contribution in fighting the virus, which first spread in central China late last year. He said that the crisis had ignited a patriotic surge that bolstered the party.

“The great strategic outcomes achieved in the struggle against the new coronavirus have fully demonstrated the clear superiority of Communist Party leadership and our socialist system,” Mr. Xi said, addressing rows of award recipients in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Mr. Xi’s triumphant account would probably have drawn much wider skepticism in China earlier this year, when many people were angered by officials who understated the spread of infections in Wuhan, where the epidemic began. But the public mood shifted as China emerged from the crisis far more smoothly than the United States and other advanced economies did.

Near the start of Tuesday’s meeting, the thousands in the hall observed a moment of silence to mourn the thousands who died in China from the virus, including many medical workers. But online, Chinese people lamented the lack of mention of Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who was chastised by the police for alerting his colleagues to the then little-understood virus, and later died from Covid-19.

“Dr. Li, I thought your name should have been at the award day ceremony,” said one of many similar comments on Dr. Li’s page on Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese social media platform.

China is now trying to turn attention to economic recovery, and the government has chosen an unusual set of volunteers to test a coronavirus vaccine: its trade negotiators, who are more likely than most Chinese to interact with potentially infected foreigners.

Chen Deming, a former commerce minister who is still active on trade issues, was maskless when he addressed an economic policy conference on Tuesday in Beijing. He drew laughter and applause when he said, “The host doesn’t have to wear a mask because I’ve already had the Phase 3 trial vaccine shot.”

Mr. Chen, a Communist Party elder statesman who turns 71 this year, added that he had developed antibodies to protect against the coronavirus.

In a short interview after his speech, Mr. Chen said that he had received the Sinopharm vaccine, one of several now in Phase 3 trials in China. A third of the Commerce Ministry’s staff has joined him in applying for the trial and receiving the vaccine, he added.

China’s vaccine makers have been turning to Chinese citizens who travel overseas, and to countries such as Brazil and Indonesia, in their search for people with whom to test whether their products work.

“For those people who have a high overseas or travel exposure, they have a high priority to receive the vaccine,” said Wang Huiyao, the president of the Center for China and Globalization, an influential Beijing research group that organized the conference at which Mr. Chen spoke.

In other developments around the world:

  • Thousands of trainee doctors in South Korea returned to work on Tuesday, ending a two-and-a-half-week strike that had complicated efforts to battle the coronavirus at a critical point in the outbreak. Intern and resident doctors went on strike on Aug. 21 to protest the government’s medical reform program, which included plans to increase the number of medical school students and open public medical schools.

  • Japan approved a plan to spend more than $6 billion from its emergency budget reserves on coronavirus vaccines. The chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters that AstraZeneca had agreed to supply 120 million doses starting early next year, and that Pfizer would supply 120 million doses by the end of June. Mr. Suga said the government was also negotiating with Moderna for more than 40 million additional doses.

  • The head of Britain’s testing program has apologized for a backlog in which people said they were being directed hundreds of miles away from their homes to be swabbed. Sarah-Jane Marsh, the director of testing for the N.H.S. Test and Trace program, blamed a shortage in laboratory processing.

  • Amid rapidly surging new virus cases each day, Turkey is requiring masks be worn in all public places, including offices, factories and open-air places such as parks and beaches. The number of new daily cases passed 1,700 on Monday, the government said. Turkey has documented more than 281,500 cases so far, and 6,730 people have died. The country is also reinstating limits on public transportation after images of jam-packed minibuses began circulating on social media and fights over masks broke out between drivers and passengers.

  • Wales is introducing its first local lockdown, amid a spike in virus cases in the area of Caerphilly, near Cardiff. The restrictions begin on Tuesday and will remain in effect until at least October. Several areas in England have already been placed under local lockdowns.

  • Hong Kong will expand the size of legal public gatherings to four from two on Friday, as the Chinese territory loosens restrictions that it imposed this summer to fight a third wave of infections. More sports and entertainment venues will also be allowed to reopen.

  • The director of the Tour de France tested positive for the coronavirus and will quarantine for a week, the race reported on Tuesday. The director, Christian Prudhomme, had not been in direct contact with any riders, the race said, and no riders tested positive. The race started as usual on Tuesday morning. Four support staff members also tested positive. The race had said that teams would be ejected from the Tour if two members tested positive, but each of the four were from different teams. European news media reported that Mr. Prudhomme was asymptomatic. The Tour is entering its second week of three racing around France. Despite coronavirus concerns, large crowds turned up to watch in the Pyrenees last week.

Limited virus testing for children has created a Covid-19 ‘blind spot.’

As child care centers and schools reopen in the United States, parents are encountering another coronavirus testing bottleneck: Few sites will test children. Even in large cities with dozens of test sites, parents are driving long distances and calling multiple centers to track down one accepting children.

The age policies at testing sites reflect a range of concerns, including differences in health insurance, medical privacy rules, holes in test approval, and fears of squirmy or shrieking children.

The limited testing hampers schools’ ability to quickly isolate and trace virus cases among students. It could also create a new burden on working parents, with some schools and child care centers requiring symptomatic children to test negative before rejoining class.

“There is no good reason not to do it in kids,” said Sean O’Leary, a Colorado pediatrician who sits on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases. “It’s a matter of people not being comfortable with doing it.”

Many testing sites, including those run by cities and states, do not test any children, or they set age minimums that exclude young children. The age limits vary widely from place to place. Los Angeles offers public testing without any age minimum, while San Francisco, which initially saw only adults, recently began offering tests to children 13 and older. Dallas sets a cutoff at 5 years old.

Nir Menachemi, a professor of health policy and management at Indiana University, called the lack of child testing a blind spot that was interfering with school reopening plans and with efforts to understand how the virus was spreading.

“Having a blind spot makes you not able to respond from a public health perspective, either with the correct messaging or with the right policies to put into place to protect the people who are vulnerable,” he said.

Despite a steady decline in daily cases and deaths, Egypt surpassed the 100,000 mark for virus cases on Tuesday.

The Arab world’s most populous country, with over 100 million people, Egypt endured a partial lockdown between March and June that included a nighttime curfew, the closure of airports, restaurants, and cafes, and the suspension of prayers at all places of worship.

But life on the streets has been returning to normal, with most of those restrictions lifted, although mask-wearing is still imposed. Flights resumed in July, and tourism has gradually been allowed back into some cities and attractions. Pressure has eased on the country’s underfunded health sector, with some hospitals that had been earmarked for quarantining virus patients returning to their normal operation.

Most school exams were canceled last semester, but the new school year is set to begin in October, with the introduction of online teaching along with classroom activities to relieve crowding in schools.

The pandemic had overwhelmed the country’s health system, which also suffers a shortage in manpower with an increasing number of doctors migrating in recent years for better career opportunities abroad.

Several doctors have been detained for publicly demanding better working conditions — such as supplying enough personal protective equipment — as hospitals were overflowing with patients.

Dr. Tammy Chen, a dentist in Manhattan, says that she has seen more tooth fractures in the past six weeks than in the past six years. She sees three factors at work: virus-induced stress that leads to clenching and grinding teeth; poor posture from working at home that can lead to teeth-grinding; and not getting enough rest, which can lead to tension and clenching the teeth.

So what can you do?

Here is what she says:

Awareness is key. Are your teeth currently touching? Even as you read this article? If so, that’s a sure sign that you’re doing some damage — your teeth shouldn’t actually touch throughout the day at all unless you’re actively eating and chewing your food. Instead, your jaw should be relaxed, with a bit of space between the teeth when the lips are closed. Be mindful, and try to stop yourself from grinding when you catch yourself doing it.

If you have a night guard or retainer, devices that keep the teeth in proper alignment and prevent grinding, try popping them in during the day. These appliances provide a physical barrier, absorbing and dispersing pressure. As I often tell my patients, I’d much rather you crack a night guard than crack a tooth. Your dentist can custom make a night guard to assure proper fit.

And since many of us will be continuing to work from home for months, it is imperative to set up a proper work station. Ideally, when seated, your shoulders should be over your hips, and your ears should be over your shoulders. Computer screens should be at eye level; prop up your monitor or laptop on a box or a stack of books if you don’t have an adjustable chair or desk.

Reporting was contributed by Keith Bradsher, Chris Buckley, Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Nicholas Fandos, Sarah Kliff, Victor Mather, Nada Rashwan, Margot Sanger-Katz, Anna Schaverien, Karan Deep Singh and Katie Thomas.

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