Monday morning news – March 16, 2020

Federal government announces new countermeasures against coronavirus » The federal government is moving forward with a range of measures to fight the coronavirus and give financial relief to Americans. 

At the White House Sunday, President Trump, Vice President Pence, and members of the Coronavirus Task Force briefed reporters on the response. 

The president opened with praise for the Federal Reserve, which just minutes earlier slashed its benchmark interest rate to near zero. 

TRUMP: And in addition, very importantly, the Federal Reserve is going to be purchasing $500 billion of treasuries, and $200 billion of mortgage backed securities, and that number could increase. 

The central bank is also lowering the rate for short-term emergency loans and is encouraging banks to lend to households and businesses impacted by the virus. 

The Fed move came two days after President Trump declared a national coronavirus emergency, freeing up $50 billion in federal funding. 

And a day later, lawmakers in the House overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The president supports the bill, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained…

PELOSI: Our legislation secures paid leave with two weeks of paid sick leave, with family and medical leave for those affected by the virus. 

She said it also strengthens unemployment benefits for those who might lose their jobs amid the crisis. And it will provide free coronavirus testing for all Americans. 

And at the White House Sunday, officials had plenty to say about testing. Vice President Mike Pence said many more Covid-19 tests will be available very soon. 

PENCE: We will now have access in the days ahead to more than 2,00 labs across the country that have the equipment today to process coronavirus tests much more rapidly at a much higher volume.

States, cities, and companies move to fight virus » States, cities and private companies across the country are also taking steps to fight the virus. 

Several states are closing down bars and shutting down restaurants, at least to dine-in customers, in an attempt to increase social distancing. California, Illinois, Ohio, and Massachusetts announced the measures on Sunday. 

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said he urged the public to voluntarily avoid crowds. 

PRITZKER: It’s unfortunate that many people didn’t take that seriously. The time for persuasion and public appeals is over. The time for action is here. 

The state of New York, meantime, is shutting down schools. 

And Starbucks announced that for at least the next two weeks, its stores will only accept to-go orders. It will not allow gathering inside cafes or on patios. 

Those announcements came as the CDC issued new—advising against any gatherings of 50 or more people for at least the next eight weeks.

Biden, Sanders debate without a crowd amid coronavirus crisis » The coronavirus was front and center at last night’s presidential debate.

DEBATE: Good evening from Washington D.C. and welcome to this unique event, the CNN/Univision Democratic presidential debate with the two leading candidates. 

And it was indeed unique. No audience for this debate amid coronavirus concerns. And former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders didn’t shake hands. They exchanged a friendly elbow bump, and then took their positions on the stage, six feet apart from one other. 

Both were asked how they would handle the COVID-19 crisis as president. Biden talked about the importance of access to testing, and he added…

BIDEN: I would also at this point begin to deal with the need to begin to plan for additional hospital beds. We have that capacity in the Department of Defense, as well as with FEMA. And they can set up hundred-bed, 500-bed hospitals in tents quickly. 

Senator Sanders, said among other things, that Washington should guarantee workers that the government will reimburse them for any wages lost during the crisis.

SANDERS: What we have got to say to the American people: If you lose your job, you will be made whole. You’re not going to lose income. If Trump can put—or the Fed can put a trillion and a half into the banking system, we can protect the wages of every worker in America. 

The candidates will debate again next month, but the date and location are still to be determined. 

Voters in four states head to the polls tomorrow: Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio.

Israel’s Gantz will try again to form a government » Israel’s opposition leader Benny Gantz will get the first opportunity to form a new government. That after another inconclusive election earlier this month, the third in less than a year. 

Israeli President Reuben Rivlin made the announcement Sunday. Rivlin’s position is largely ceremonial, but it’s up to him to decide who has the best chance to form a government. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the largest party in the March 2 election. But with his smaller religious and nationalist allies, he received the support of only 58 lawmakers during Sunday’s consultations. That leaves Likud three seats short of the required majority in parliament.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, Sunday, March 15, 2020. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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