Covid-19 Live Updates: Congress Returns to an Impasse Over Pandemic Aid

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As senators return to Washington, an impasse over a virus relief package looms.

Senators return to Washington on Tuesday from their annual summer recess, no closer than when they left three weeks ago to resolving sharp divisions over another coronavirus aid package and now facing a potential government shutdown that could deepen the economic pain.

The impasse amounts to a fraught political situation for both parties less than two months before the November election, with millions still unemployed and cities and states beginning to enact significant budget cuts with no promise of relief from Congress.

Senate Republican leaders are hoping to corral their caucus around a scaled-back stimulus plan that would 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 restore the $600 unemployment benefits and have refused to consider any measure below $2.2 trillion.

The Republicans’ bill would carry a likely price tag of $500 billion to $700 billion, far less than the $3 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, according to Republican aides, but it remains unclear whether Republicans can coalesce around it.

Even if they do, Democrats are expected 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.”

Lawmakers are more optimistic about the chances for a stopgap budget bill to avert a shutdown at the end of the month; Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, have reached an informal agreement on the bill. It is unclear how long the measure would provide funding after the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, but it would be all but guaranteed to last beyond the Nov. 3 election.

“The most important thing is to make sure at the end of the month, we don’t shut down the government and we get something past the election,” Mr. Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.”

For now, though, lawmakers’ focus is on a stimulus bill, with the Republican measure still taking shape. At least one Republican, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, has petitioned the White House for the inclusion of a refundable tax credit for home-schooling expenses in the measure, according to a person familiar with the request.

For his part, President Trump does not appear eager to play deal maker. At a White House news conference on Monday, he said he saw no need to meet with Democrats because “they don’t want to make a deal because they think it’s good for politics if they don’t make a deal.”

“I don’t need to meet with them to be turned down,” he said.

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.

  • 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.

  • Despite a resurgence of the virus in France, officials from the French Tennis Federation announced on Monday that they would allow spectators at the French Open, which will take place from Sept. 27 to Oct. 11. The plans have been scaled back, however, to 11,500 people a day.

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.

Reporting was contributed by Keith Bradsher, Chris Buckley, Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Nicholas Fandos, Margot Sanger-Katz, Sarah Kliff and Karan Deep Singh.

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