State Department tells U.S. citizens to return home now or stay put

The State Department on Thursday told American citizens abroad to come back to the U.S. or prepare to remain abroad for an “indefinite period,” while urging against all international travel.

The move raises to level four the department’s global travel advisory over the coronavirus pandemic.

The advisory, which is not a legal requirement, was previously at level three and is now at its highest level.

“In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the U.S. should arrange for an immediate return to the U.S., unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period,” the State Department said.

Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen said his office has received hundreds of inquiries on behalf of constituents abroad and slammed the State Department for a lack of guidance and assistance to facilitate travel back to the U.S.

“The Departments anticipated advisory, absent meaningful support from the  U.S. government, will only contribute to existing panic and confusion,” Van Hallen said in a statement issued shortly before the State Department’s announcement.

The move comes as confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. surge past 13,000, with 175 deaths, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University.

The U.S. has taken measures to restrict the entry of foreign nationals coming from a range of hotspots, including Europe and China.

Even the border with Canada has been closed to all non-essential travel.

Meanwhile, congress is hashing out a massive economic stimulus bill, estimated at 1 trillion dollars, as the U.S. economy continues to reel as much of the nation comes to a standstill.

Senate Republicans on Thursday submitted their proposal for the stimulus plan to boost the U.S. economy and shelter workers from the financial fallout.

The bill includes up to 1,200 dollars in one-off cash payments to individuals, with an additional 500 dollars per child, on top of loan programmes for small businesses, a range of provisions to assist industries taking big hits and support for the healthcare sector.

The 240-page proposal is broad-ranging, and will still have to be negotiated with Democrats.

Mitch McConnell, the top Republican, introduced the bill and vowed that lawmakers would stay in Washington until a package was passed.

“The president is determined to go big and support the American economy.

“Once you see more and more money coming into this economy, Americans will feel a lot better,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in an interview with Fox News.

He warned the second-quarter growth would be weak but said he believed by the end of the year the economy will pick up again, as treatments are rolled out.

Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer issued a tepid response to the Republican package saying it must expand social safety net programs, like unemployment insurance, and prevent government funds from being used to enrich company executives.

Weekly jobless claims in the U.S. rose to 281,000 last week, up from 211,000 in the previous week, as warning signs are flashing that the numbers will continue to surge as lay-offs kick in because of the coronavirus spread.

The Federal Reserve has cut interest rates to near zero and is carrying out a range of actions to supply liquidity to markets.

The latest jobs number was the highest weekly claims since February 2017, according to the Department of Labor.

As an example of how bad things might get, Ohio’s deputy governor, Jon Husted, told National Public Radio that in the first three days of this week the state saw 78,000 people join the ranks of the jobless, up from just 6,500 the week before.

Hospitality company Marriott International is one of the major employers saying it will have to lay off masses of workers.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve warned that it is predicting a collapse in manufacturing in March.

So far, the U.S. Congress passed a bill to get 8.5 billion dollars in funding for medical research, vaccines and other health-specific uses.

This week, congress passed a 105-billion-dollar relief package, which includes paid sick leave for workers, and boosted unemployment benefits.

President Donald Trump signed it into law.

Mnuchin said he believes there will be bipartisan support for the third stimulus bill, even as negotiations persist.

However, an issue suspected to dominate discussions is how to means-test who gets assistance. (dpa/NAN)


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