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Coronavirus Live Updates: G.O.P. Seeks To Cut $600 Weekly Jobless Aid By Two-Thirds, Officials Say Press "Enter" to skip to content

Coronavirus Live Updates: G.O.P. Seeks to Cut $600 Weekly Jobless Aid by Two-Thirds, Officials Say

Republicans seek to slash expiring jobless payments by two-thirds as part of $1 trillion recovery bill.

Republicans are seeking a $400-per-week reduction in unemployment benefits in their $1 trillion economic recovery package, initially lowering the payments for tens of millions of jobless Americans from $600 to $200, according to officials familiar with the talks.

The proposal to slash the jobless aid by two thirds, part of a Republican plan they intend to present later on Monday, is likely to be among the most bitterly contested issues in bipartisan negotiations over the next round of pandemic relief. Democrats support a $3 trillion package that includes extending the $600-per-week unemployment payments, which expire on Friday, through the end of the year.

Many Republicans detest the supplemental jobless aid, put in place by the $2.2 trillion stimulus law, arguing that it is a disincentive to returning to work because it exceeds what some workers can earn in regular wages. The Republican proposal, which has badly divided the party, envisions eventually shifting to a new system of calculating benefits that would cap payments at about 70 percent of a worker’s prior income, which would also amount to about $200 per week.

In a nod to the long odds of striking a deal before the benefits expire on Friday, administration officials continue to float the prospect of speeding through a much narrower bill that would extend extra jobless aid, provide funding for schools and enact new liability shields for operating businesses.

But Democrats have rejected that idea, saying it would sap momentum for other crucial relief measures.

“We have stood ready to negotiate for more than two months,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Monday, calling on Republican leadership and White House officials “to come to the Speaker’s Office and join Leader Schumer and me within a half an hour of releasing their plan today to negotiate and get the job done.”

“If Republicans care about working families, this won’t take long,” she said. “Time is running out. Congress cannot go home without an agreement.”

President Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, has tested positive for the coronavirus, the White House said on Monday, making him the most senior White House official known to have contracted the virus.

In a statement, the White House said that Mr. O’Brien “has mild symptoms” and is working remotely from “a secure location off site.”

“There is no risk of exposure to the president or the vice president. The work of the National Security Council continues uninterrupted,” the statement said.

Mr. O’Brien typically works from a West Wing office that is steps away from the Oval Office. It is unclear when he was last in contact with Mr. Trump, although he joined him on a July 10 trip to Florida.

Mr. O’Brien traveled to Paris in mid-July to meet with several of his European counterparts. It was unclear whether he became infected before that trip, and the White House statement did not provide further details.

Senior White House aides are tested regularly for the virus, as is Mr. Trump.

Mr. O’Brien assumed his job in September of last year, succeeding John R. Bolton, who resigned after mounting differences with the president.

One of the first large studies of safety and effectiveness of a coronavirus vaccine in the United States began on Monday morning, according to the National Institutes of Health and the biotech company Moderna, which collaborated to develop the vaccine.

The study, a Phase 3 clinical trial, is to enroll 30,000 healthy people at about 89 sites around the country. Half will receive two shots of the vaccine, 28 days apart, and half will receive two shots of a saltwater placebo. Neither the volunteers nor the medical staff giving the injections will know who is getting the real vaccine.

The first shot was given to a person at 6:45 a.m., Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infections disease expert, said at a news briefing on Monday.

Dr. Fauci estimated that the full enrollment of 30,000 people in the trial would be completed by the end of the summer, and that results might be available by November. Even earlier results might be possible, he said, but added that he doubted that would be the case.

At the news briefing, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said that at least three more Phase 3 trials would be starting soon, each needing 30,000 patients. Those trials will involve vaccines made by Novavax, by a collaboration of the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, and by Johnson & Johnson. All are part of the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed. A fourth vaccine, made by Pfizer and BioNTech, is also expected to start Phase 3 this month, but is not part of Warp Speed, Dr. Collins said.

Researchers will then monitor the subjects, looking for side effects and waiting to see if significantly fewer vaccinated people get Covid-19, indicating that the vaccine works. The main goal is to determine whether the vaccine can prevent the illness. The study will also try to find out if it can prevent severe Covid-19 and death; if it can prevent infection entirely, based on lab tests; and if just one shot can prevent the illness.

Earlier tests of the vaccine showed that it stimulated a strong immune response, with minor and transient side effects like sore arms, fatigue, achiness and fever. But exactly what type of immune response is needed to prevent the illness is not known, so Phase 3 studies are essential to determine whether a vaccine really works.

The vaccine uses a synthetic version of genetic material from part of the coronavirus, encased in tiny particles made of fat that help it get into human cells. The genetic material, called messenger RNA or mRNA, then prompts the cells to churn out a tiny piece of the virus, which the immune system sees as foreign, and learns to recognize. If the person is later exposed to the real virus, the immune system will attack.

Messenger RNA has not produced any approved vaccines, but other companies have also invested in the approach because of its potential to produce vaccine quickly. The government announced last week that it had made a $1.95 billion deal to buy 100 million doses of an mRNA vaccine made by Pfizer, in partnership with a German company, BioNTech. That vaccine is also expected to begin Phase 3 trials this month, and the government will buy it only if the trial proves it safe and effective. Curevac and Sanofi are also working on mRNA vaccines.

Moderna said on Sunday that it would receive up to $472 million in additional funding from the federal government to help pay for the late-stage clinical trial. Hundreds of vaccines are being tested for the coronavirus, and 27 are in human trials. Moderna said in a statement that it would be able to deliver about 500 million doses per year, and possibly up to a billion doses per year, starting in 2021. The company says it will not sell the vaccine at cost, but for profit.

Adults interested in participating in the Moderna trial can visit https://www.coronaviruspreventionnetwork.org/ or ClinicalTrials.gov and search identifier NCT04470427.

The Labor Department has been struggling to process a pileup of compensation claims from federal workers who have fallen ill with the coronavirus, according to an audit by the department’s inspector general.

According to the report, the department expects to have received roughly 6,000 claims by next Tuesday, and has been slow to sift through the ones it has received already.

As of June 16, the department had processed only 911 of the 2,866 claims it had received, the report said.

As thousands of federal employees who were deemed essential workers have stayed on the job since March, and thousands more have begun returning to offices through phased reopenings, the department has tracked a steady increase in infected workers now seeking assistance.

Part of the reason for the delays is that the department itself has run into challenges working efficiently under pandemic conditions.

“We found that most OWCP programs are experiencing or expecting delays and resource management issues as a result of increasing claims or social distancing mandates brought on by the pandemic,” the report said, referring to the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.

The woes facing federal workers mirror those of many in the private sector who have struggled to navigate government systems to claim unemployment benefits. Some have faced delays of several months, or seen their benefits inexplicably cut off.

As of July 23, the Labor Department had received compensation claims from 4,011 federal employees who were infected, as well as 60 more from relatives of federal workers who have died from Covid-19, according to reporting from The Washington Post.

The doctor behind the data in discredited studies is said to have a history of misrepresenting information.

The doctor who supplied the data for two discredited Covid studies had a history of cutting corners and misrepresenting information as he pursued his ambitions, former colleagues say.

In May, Dr. Sapan Desai published two high-profile studies, including one that found that anti-malaria drugs promoted by President Trump had harmed patients being treated for Covid-19. The study almost instantly disrupted multiple clinical trials amid the pandemic. (The Food and Drug Administration said that hydroxychloroquine has not been shown to be safe and effective and should not be used outside clinical trials.)

Last month, both studies were retracted by the medical journals that had published them, after researchers around the world suggested the data was dubious. Dr. Desai, who declined to share the raw data even with his co-authors, claimed it was culled from a massive trove acquired by Surgisphere, a business he started during his residency.

The New York Times interviewed more than two dozen people who have known Dr. Desai over the past two decades. He has cast himself as an ambitious physician, an entrepreneur with an M.B.A. and a prolific researcher published in medical journals.

But more than a dozen doctors who worked with him during training and residency said they had often found him to be an unreliable physician, who seemed less interested in patient care than in his company and a medical journal he founded.

“You couldn’t trust what he said,” said Dr. Vanessa Olcese, a former chief resident who worked with Dr. Desai at Duke University Medical Center.

Hong Kong will prohibit dining in restaurants, limit public gatherings to two people and require mask-wearing in public at all times, officials said on Monday, reacting to a spike in coronavirus cases.

The territory reported 145 cases on Monday, the highest single-day count since the pandemic began and the sixth straight day of more than 100 new cases.

Hong Kong joins a long list of places around the world that are tightening restrictions on public life as the virus surges. The city’s restaurant shutdown is set to take effect on Wednesday.

From mid-April to early July, Hong Kong seemed to have tamed the virus — there were just 47 new cases in the entire month of May — and it was widely praised by international experts. Crowds could be found in restaurants and malls, public transportation operated normally and schools were open.

The city had been quick to tighten its borders and impose quarantine rules for visitors early in the pandemic, and to contain outbreaks traced to travelers. But in recent weeks the case counts have ballooned — though they remain far below those seen in some American and European cities — and tracing their sources has become more difficult. Many of the people testing positive had not traveled or been in contact with known clusters, suggesting that the virus is spreading undetected within the city.

“The situation is very serious,” Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, said recently. “And there is no sign of it coming under control.”

Many residents say the new clusters can be traced to people who have been exempted from the city’s 14-day quarantine rule for new arrivals, including airline pilots and business travelers. Residents have called for an end to those exemptions, but the government says they are necessary.

Hong Kong has expanded testing of people who are thought to be especially vulnerable to the virus, including restaurant workers, taxi drivers and older people.

Major League Baseball postpones two games after an outbreak.

Two Major League Baseball games scheduled for Monday were called off after an outbreak. The Miami Marlins home opener against the Baltimore Orioles was postponed. And the Phillies’ home game against the Yankees was also called off, according to two people with direct knowledge of the decision.

Two coaches and 12 players on the Marlins tested positive, the league’s worst fear becoming reality just days into resuming its season.

The Marlins were scheduled to fly home Sunday night from Philadelphia, where they played three games against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park starting Friday. They played the final game after learning that four players had tested positive, but Manager Don Mattingly told reporters later that the team “never really considered not playing.”

The outbreak on the Marlins, first reported by ESPN, was confirmed by a person with direct knowledge of the test results who spoke on condition of anonymity because the league and the team had not made an official announcement.

After the game, Mattingly told reporters that the Marlins had postponed their trip home until Monday rather than return Sunday night. The Yankees, who had a least one player sit out of their opening game against the Washington Nationals after recovering from the virus, were set to play in Philadelphia before the news of the outbreak at Citizens Bank Park.

In strongly worded remarks on Monday, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said that of the six global health emergencies that the agency has declared, the coronavirus “is easily the most severe.”

In a prepared statement, Dr. Ghebreyesus defended the organization’s track record, citing the early warnings and guidance it has provided during the pandemic. Critics including Mr. Trump have accused it of being slow to sound the alarm.

Dr. Ghebreyesus noted that the W.H.O. declared the virus a “public health emergency of international concern” on Jan. 30, when there were fewer than 100 known cases and no known deaths outside China. The organization mobilized $1 billion from member states, and convened hundreds of experts to advise on research and response, he said.

“Although our world has changed, the fundamental pillars of the response have not: political leadership, and informing, engaging and listening to communities,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said.

Countries that have applied these measures diligently, like New Zealand and Thailand, have avoided large outbreaks, or, like Canada and Germany, have succeeded in bringing outbreaks under control.

“The bottom line is that one of the most fundamental ingredients for stopping this virus is determination, and the willingness to make hard choices to keep ourselves and each other safe,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said. He added that the pandemic “has shown what humans are capable of, both positively and negatively.”

Anxious investors send gold prices to a new high.

Gold reached a record high on Monday, continuing its rise as nervous investors sought out a safe place to put their money.

The price for spot gold, which has been climbing steadily since March, reached $1,944 per ounce on Monday.

The price of gold usually rises amid financial uncertainty, and its recent climb reflected a number of factors, including concern over U.S.-China relations, the decline of the U.S. dollar amid the Federal Reserve’s stimulus efforts, and rock-bottom interest rates. The last time gold reached record levels was following the 2008 financial crisis, another period when the Fed flooded the economy with dollars to generate economic activity.

Stock markets were mixed on Monday, with shares in the United States slightly higher while those in Europe and Asia were mostly lower. The S&P 500 rose about half a percent, as shares of large technology companies like Apple and Microsoft rebounded from a decline last week. Reflecting the rally in tech stocks, the Nasdaq composite rose more than 1 percent.

U.S. ROUNDUP

Google’s employees will work from home until mid-2021.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google’s parent company Alphabet, told employees Monday that they would not be expected back in the office until mid-2021.

The company’s work force, which has been working remotely since March, had previously been told to expect a return to offices in January 2021.

A Google spokesman said: “To give employees the ability to plan ahead, we are extending our global voluntary work from home option through June 30, 2021 for roles that don’t need to be in the office.”

Technology companies moved quickly with work from home policies, and have been reluctant to bring workers back too early. In May, Facebook said it would allow many employees to work from home permanently.

In other developments around the United States:

The carefully tended grapes of France are condemned to become hand gel after the wine markets collapse.

Across France, thousands of winemakers, famous and obscure, are facing moments of heartbreak.

The economic crisis, combined with the Trump administration’s 25 percent tax on French wines in the trade war dispute with Europe, has collapsed the wine market.

So some of the succulent wine for which France is famous will wind up as hand sanitizer.

The precocious 2020 harvest, blessed by abundant sunshine, is barely a month away. The wine vats must be emptied for the new production. The distillery is the only option.

“We’re producing more than we can sell,” said Thibaut Specht, a winemaker in Alsace. “We have no choice.”

Marion Borès’s family business, Domaine Borès, in Reichsfeld, is sending off half its production — 320,000 liters — to a distiller for conversion into alcohol for sanitizer. “It’s like you are saying goodbye to somebody who is very dear to you,” she said.

After North Korea on Sunday accused a man of secretly crossing into the country from South Korea and bringing the virus with him, Seoul went in search of any defectors ​in ​the South who were missing.

By Monday, South Korean officials had zeroed in on a 24-year-old man, identified only by his family name, Kim, who in 2017 swam across the western inter-Korea border to defect to the South. On July 19, he swam back across the border into Kaesong in the North, they said.

It was not immediately clear why the defector had crossed. The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that the man had been wanted by the South Korean police for questioning after a rape accusation.

North Korea said on Sunday that the North Korean man was “suspected to have been infected with the vicious virus” and could be the country’s first case. And the reverse defection prompted the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to order a total lockdown of Kaesong, a border city of 300,000, and declare a “maximum” national emergency.

Until Sunday, North Korea had ​repeatedly ​said that it had no Covid-19 cases. The claim was questioned by outside experts.

South Korea officials could not say whether the man might have ​carried the virus across the border.

In other news from around the world:

  • Vietnam, which on Saturday broke a streak of 100 days without a local virus transmission, will evacuate 80,000 people from the central city of Danang after four residents there tested positive this weekend.

  • Belgium’s prime minister reinstated strict social-distancing rules on Monday, saying she was taking aggressive steps to avoid another lockdown. She ordered Belgians not to socialize with more than five people and restricted all shopping visits to 30 minutes. Such measures were in place this spring, as Belgium was just emerging from a strict lockdown. Belgium’s infection numbers remain small but are increasing quickly, particularly in the second-largest city, Antwerp.

  • The health minister of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Dr. Jesus Grajeda, died nearly two weeks after being hospitalized with Covid-19, Reuters reported. Announcing the death on Sunday on Facebook, Chihuahua’s governor expressed “profound sadness.”

With Kentucky officials set to announce stricter measures on Monday to contain the virus, a top federal health official suggested that the leaders of nearby states should take a hard look at doing the same.

Deborah L. Birx, the Trump administration’s coronavirus response coordinator, said several states in the region should reinstate bar closures and restrictions on public gatherings “to really make it possible to control the pandemic before it gets worse.”

States in the South and Midwest are facing the prospect of shutting down parts of their economies again to try to stem the virus, which the Trump administration and many governors have increasingly been forced to recognize as unrelenting. Larry Kudlow, the president’s economic adviser, said Sunday on CNN that the administration would “lengthen” the eviction moratorium which was set to expire at the end of July.

Florida has surpassed New York, an early center of the pandemic in the United States when testing was scarce, in the number of cases, and four states have set single-day case records for their states: Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Alaska. On Monday, Oklahoma broke another state record for single-day cases, with 1,244 cases. Florida reported 8,892 cases and 77 deaths, neither state records.

Dr. Birx appeared with Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, who said that the state would announce new guidelines on Monday to address the rise in cases.

“I want you to know that the White House and Kentucky state government are in complete agreement that the escalation of cases is going to require us to take some new steps,” Mr. Beshear said.

And despite increased testing capacity across the nation, there is a consensus among federal state and local officials that test results are taking too long.

The federal government said Sunday that it would pay the testing company Hologic up to $7.6 million to expand the number of tests its machines can run by two million a month. The expanded capacity won’t be available until next January.

The virus has been surging across Zambia, with the government announcing a record number of cases. Last week, the authorities also said that 15 lawmakers and 11 members of staff had tested positive.

One of those is the lawmaker Princess Kasune Zulu, 44, prominently known for being the first Zambian legislator to declare that she had H.I.V. Elected in 2016, she has worked with global organizations and traveled the world talking about living with H.I.V. and advocating on behalf of others with it. Ms. Zulu announced that she had tested positive for the coronavirus on Facebook, saying she was going into quarantine.

“Covid-19 is moving rapidly and so many lives at stake,” she wrote on Facebook, urging Zambians to stay at home, wear masks and avoid gatherings, including church. “Let’s do our part so that God can do his,” she said. As of Sunday, Zambia’s ministry of health had reported a total of 4,481 cases and 139 deaths.

Six months since the first U.S. cases were detected, more people have been infected by far than in any other country, and the daily rundown of national numbers on Friday was a reminder of a mounting emergency: more than 73,500 cases, 1,100 deaths and 939,838 tests, as well as 59,670 people currently hospitalized for the virus.

Americans now have access to an expanding set of data to help them interpret the pandemic. Sophisticated data-gathering operations by news organizations, research universities and volunteers have sprung up in response, monitoring and collecting metrics around the clock.

“Everybody’s tracking this virus in a way that they’ve never done with any other infectious disease,” said Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who has treated coronavirus patients. “For some people, it’s helped them understand what is happening. For other people, it’s been misinterpreted and not very helpful.”

Reporting was contributed by Julie Bosman, Roni Caryn Rabin, Stephen Castle, Troy Closson, Emily Cochrane, Lindsey Rogers Cook, Michael Cooper, Michael Crowley, Nicholas Fandos, Julia Echikson, Gillian Friedman, Ellen Gabler, Kevin Granville, Denise Grady, Choe Sang-Hun, Tyler Kepner, Tiffany May, David McCabe, Raphael Minder, Zach Montague, Adam Nossiter, Richard C. Paddock, Edgar Sandoval, Kaly Soto, Eileen Sullivan, Neil Vigdor and Daniel Victor.

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