Coronavirus: Trump promises economic relief, possible payroll tax cut

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence meet Tuesday with insurance company representatives in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

March 10 (UPI) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced a number of measures to tackle the economic affects of the coronavirus, including travel industry aid, healthcare co-pay waivers and the possibility of a payroll tax cut.

He and Vice President Mike Pence addressed the economic efforts during a White House briefing with insurance industry executives. Trump said his administration is working to help as the travel industry faces plummeting demand over concern planes and cruise ships are helping the virus spread.

“They’re taking very strong steps in terms of people going on and going off,” Trump said of the cruise industry. “But they’re spending a lot of money and they are working very hard. And … we’re going to be helping that industry.

“Likewise, with the airline industry, they’re taking very, very strong steps for people coming into our country, even getting off the planes. So we are working very closely with them.”

The airline industry is facing tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue due to the outbreak. Earlier Tuesday, U.S. carriers American and Delta announced steep flight reductions to foreign and domestic markets due to a drop in demand.

Monday, the Grand Princess cruise ship carrying 3,500 people from 54 countries docked in Oakland, Calif., after spending four days quarantined off the West Coast. The ship had 21 coronavirus patients on board, and a couple on the ship has filed a $1 million lawsuit against Princess Cruise Lines.

At the White House meeting, Pence announced that major U.S. insurance companies have agreed to suspend co-payments for coronavirus tests — including UnitedHealth Group, Anthem, Cigna, Humana, Aetna and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

“They’ve also agreed to cover telemedicine so that anyone, particularly among the vulnerable senior population, would not feel it necessary to go to a hospital or go to their doctor,” Pence added. “They’ll know that telemedicine is covered.”

Additionally, Trump said he plans to speak to Congress about “a possible tax relief measure.”

“We are to be meeting with House Republicans, Mitch McConnell, and discussing a possible payroll tax cut or relief, substantial relief, very substantial relief,” he told reporters.

Trump didn’t reveal any details of his plan for such a cut.

Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University showed by mid-day Tuesday the number of U.S. cases has surpassed 790 and the death toll is at 28. The university reported the worldwide total of confirmed COVID-19 cases at nearly 116,000, with 4,088 deaths. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the U.S. totals at 25 deaths and 647 confirmed cases. Its updates are current as of late Monday afternoon.

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Officials in New York on Tuesday said they have created a “containment zone” around New Rochelle, which is the hub of the outbreak in the state, that will last until March 25. Officials said they have deployed National Guard troops to New Rochelle, in Westchester County, to support the zone. New Rochelle is about 20 miles northeast of Manhattan.

Tuesday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams advised Americans not to panic, but also said “people should know that this is going to likely get worse before it gets better.”

“We’ve been here before — H1N1, SARS, MERS,” he told Good Morning America. “We know how to handle this, and really what we’re trying to communicate to people now is how they can prepare.”

Adams said the CDC will send out 4 million virus testing kits by the end of the week. The goal is to reach a level where “every American can rapidly get tested” if so ordered by their doctor.

Meanwhile, the U.S. stock market, which on Monday plunged by its largest single-day total since the financial crisis of 2008, rebounded sharply at the opening bell Tuesday following remarks by Trump that he would push for a tax-cut economic stimulus.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average vacillated throughout the day, closing up by 1,163 points or 4.9 percent. The S&P 500 closed up 4.9 percent and the Nasdaq Composite was up 5 percent.

In California, health officials in Santa Clara County issued a legal order banning mass gatherings of 1,000 or more people, starting Wednesday through the rest of the month.

The order could affect major sports events in San Jose, including those of the San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League and the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer. The Sharks, whose season doesn’t conclude until April, said Tuesday they would abide by the order.

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