U.S. House will have panel overseeing coronavirus aid law expenditures: Pelosi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday the House will set up a panel to oversee expenditures under the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief law.

Pelosi made the comment in an MSNBC interview when asked about a statement by President Donald Trump rejecting aspects of a provision in the law setting up an inspector general to audit some loans and investments.

“Congress will exercise its oversight and we will have our panel … appointed by the House, in real time to make sure we know where those funds are being expended,” Pelosi said.

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With eye on election, Trump in high-stakes balancing act over coronavirus response

WASHINGTON, March 28 (Reuters) – President Donald Trump offered a preview of his re-election campaign playbook last year when he visited the building site of a multi-billion-dollar cracking unit in western Pennsylvania, hailed as one of the largest construction projects in the country.

To Trump, it was a pitch-perfect example of a booming economy.

Except today, the site sits largely empty, after the coronavirus outbreak forced oil company Royal Dutch Shell to halt construction. The project’s thousands of workers are now unemployed, adding to the nearly 3.6 million Americans who filed for jobless benefits in the last two weeks.

The tension between wanting to keep workers safe from infection and trying to get back to business as soon as possible illustrates the fine line Trump must walk as he floats the idea of reopening the U.S. economy in defiance of the advice of public health experts.

Seven months before he faces re-election, Trump must find a balance between trying to stop the economy from spiraling into a severe recession while appearing to act decisively to contain a still-expanding health catastrophe.

Trump has been under increasing pressure to ease back economic restrictions from his Republican base, who consistently have been less alarmed than Democrats about the virus, which has infected more than 85,000 Americans and killed more than 1,200.

A March 18-24 Reuters/Ipsos poll shows 76% of Democrats agreed that the coronavirus is a “serious threat to me and my family” compared with 63% of Republicans.

Many workers at the Shell site in Potter Township, 40 miles (65 km) east of Pittsburgh, live paycheck-to-paycheck and are eager to work. But some are concerned about Trump’s suggestions that the U.S. economy could be re-opened by Easter on April 12.

“If they called me and said come back to work Monday, I would not go. Not until I feel it’s safe for me and the other workers,” said Jonathan Sailers, a 34-year-old union insulator who wraps pipes at the site.

For a graphic on calendar of each state’s Democratic nominating contest and its allocated delegates, please click tmsnrt.rs/37bDD2f

BOTTOM LINE

Prior to the outbreak, a soaring stock market and strong employment stood at the heart of Trump’s message that he should be re-elected in November, with the president even suggesting that even if voters didn’t like him, he helped their bottom line.

For the moment, that argument has evaporated.

Trump’s campaign says he is focused both on safeguarding the health and safety of Americans and getting the economy humming again.

“The president is correct that our nation was not built to be completely turned off for long periods of time and that such dormancy would cause a great many long-lasting problems,” said Trump spokesman Tim Murtaugh.

Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster, said the coronavirus crisis is actually an opportunity for Trump but he must handle it correctly.

“If we wind up coming through this relatively intact, I think Trump will get a huge amount of credit from voters,” Wilson said.

Trump has already seen a bump in his approval ratings, by 4% to 44% since the health crisis, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll. But the rise is modest for a president confronting a national crisis: Former President George W. Bush’s approval rating shot up by 39 points to 90% in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to Gallup polling service.

The numbers have also climbed as Trump took the outbreak increasingly seriously, appearing on television and warning people to stay home, after at first playing down the threat.

If he flips that message, strategists and experts say, he runs the risk of losing supporters, particularly if the death toll continues to grow.

“There’s normally a rallying effect around the president in the early days of the crisis, and Trump’s clearly benefiting from that,” said Alex Conant, a former top aide to Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a 2016 presidential candidate.

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“As days turn into weeks and months, the president’s polling position could weaken if people think the country is losing the fight.”

Shell says it has no timeline for restarting construction at the Potter Township site.

In the meantime, workers are struggling to pay their bills, said Ken Broadbent, business manager for a Pittsburgh-based steamfitters union that supplied the project with hundreds of workers.

“It’s still way too early,” he said. “We just don’t know how long this will last. The longer it lasts, the more it’s going to hurt.”

For a graphic on where the candidates stand on key issues, please click tmsnrt.rs/2ughVeT

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The Race for Virus Money Is On. Lobbyists Are Standing By.

Companies see the outbreak as a chance to cash in, do some good, or both. Among the early winners: the Washington influence industry.


By Kenneth P. Vogel

WASHINGTON — The federal government is open for coronavirus business, and the scramble to get some of it is on.

A South Carolina company has hired a lobbyist close to President Trump to try to win regulatory approval to sell a misting spray to kill coronavirus on airplanes. A Manhattan company is seeking money from the $2 trillion stimulus package for its quick-change recyclable hospital curtains. Two prominent and well-connected Republican fund-raisers have linked up with competing businesses, both claiming to be able to acquire coveted equipment like coronavirus test kits and masks.

Across the country, companies see a chance to cash in, do some good for the country or both, making virus outbreak response one of the few thriving sectors of the economy. And because so much of the business runs through Washington, the rush has created new opportunities for those who can offer access, influence and expertise in navigating bureaucratic hurdles and securing chunks of the relief package Mr. Trump signed into law on Friday.

The boomlet has left the federal agencies responsible for regulating cleaning supplies, medical devices and medicines working overtime on requests to certify products for use in coronavirus response — and to clamp down on fraud.

The Food and Drug Administration has been processing a surge in applications for coronavirus vaccine and treatment trials. But the agency also has spent considerable time and resources fighting what it calls “fraudulent Covid-19 products.”

Likewise, the Environmental Protection Agency has been cracking down on unregistered products claiming to kill coronavirus, and processing requests to list various disinfectants as approved to kill the virus on surfaces.

“I was on the phone earlier with E.P.A. today, and we’re both working 24/7,” said Hal Ambuter, who leads North American regulatory and government affairs for the British consumer-product maker Reckitt Benckiser, which makes Lysol disinfectants.

The company has been working with the E.P.A. to add more of the brand’s products to a list of disinfectants approved to kill coronavirus on surfaces. “There is a lot of work in our side, and there is a lot of work on their side to handle the volume of requests that have come in,” he said in an interview on Friday.

The company’s outside counsel, Benjamin Dunham, lobbied Congress on provisions included in the stimulus bill, which included $1.5 million for the E.P.A. to facilitate faster regulatory processing of coronavirus-killing disinfectants.

Reckitt Benckiser has paid Mr. Dunham’s firm $30,000 so far this year, according to a lobbying report filed this week. It indicated that a focus of his lobbying was increasing E.P.A. funding “to expedite registration actions involving disinfectant products that are effective against” coronavirus.

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Factbox: What's in the $2.2 trillion U.S. coronavirus rescue package

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved an unprecedented $2.2 trillion stimulus package to alleviate the economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic and sent it to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

Here are major elements of the plan. Cost estimates are provided by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

DIRECT PAYMENTS TO AMERICANS

Direct payments of up to $1,200 each to millions of Americans, with additional payments of $500 per child. Payments would be phased out for those earning more than $75,000 a year. Those earning more than $99,000 would not be eligible.

Estimated cost: $290 billion

ENHANCED UNEMPLOYMENT AID

Payments for jobless workers would increase by $600 per week. Laid-off workers would get those payments for up to four months. Regular benefits, which typically run out after six months in most states, would be extended for an additional 13 weeks.

Self-employed workers, independent contractors and those who typically don’t qualify for unemployment benefits would be eligible. The government would also partially make up wages for workers whose hours are scaled back, in an effort to encourage employers to avoid layoffs.

Estimated cost: $260 billion

SMALL BUSINESS LOANS AND GRANTS

Loans for businesses that have fewer than 500 employees could be partially forgiven if they are used for employee salaries, rent, mortgage interest and utility costs. The bill also includes emergency grants for small business.

Estimated cost: $377 billion.

AID TO AIRLINES, LARGE BUSINESSES

The bill sets up a fund to support a new Federal Reserve program that offers up to $4.5 trillion in loans to businesses, states and cities that can’t get financing through other means.

Companies tapping the fund would not be able to engage in stock buybacks and would have to retain at least 90% of their employees through the end of September. They would not be able to boost executive pay by more than $425,000 annually, and those earning more than $3 million a year could see their salaries reduced.

The fund would be overseen by an inspector general and a congressional oversight board. The Treasury secretary would have to disclose transactions.

Businesses owned by President Donald Trump, other administration officials or Congress members, or their family members, would not be eligible for assistance.

Loans are set aside for airlines, air cargo carriers, airline contractors and “businesses important to maintaining national security,” widely understood to be Boeing Co (BA.N).

Total cost: $504 billion

GRANTS FOR AIRLINES

Airlines, air cargo carries and airline contractors also could get grants to cover payroll costs. They would have to maintain service and staffing levels, and would not be able to buy back stock or pay dividends. The U.S. government could get stock or other equity in return. Executive pay above $425,000 a year would be frozen for two years, and those who earn more than $3 million annually would see their salaries reduced.

Total cost: $32 billion

MONEY FOR STATES, HOSPITALS, EDUCATION

– $150 billion for state, local and Native American tribal governments

– $100 billion for hospitals and other elements of the healthcare system

– $16 billion for ventilators, masks and other medical supplies

– $11 billion for vaccines and other medical preparedness

– $4.3 billion for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

– $45 billion in disaster relief

– $30 billion for education

– $25 billion for mass-transit systems

– $10 billion in borrowing authority for the U.S. Postal Service

– $1 billion for the Amtrak passenger rail service and $10 billion for airports, which are experiencing a drop in passengers

TAX CUTS

– A refundable 50 percent payroll tax credit for businesses affected by the coronavirus, to encourage employee retention. Employers would also be able to defer payment of those taxes if necessary. Cost: $67 billion

– Loosened tax deductions for interest and operating losses. Cost: $210 billion

– Suspension of penalties for people who tap their retirement funds early. Cost: $5 billion

– Tax write-offs to encourage charitable deductions and encourage employers to help pay off student loans. Cost: $3 billion

– Waiving of federal tax on distilled spirits used to make hand sanitizer

INCREASED SAFETY NET SPENDING

– $42 billion in additional spending for food stamps and child nutrition

– $12 billion for housing programs

– $45 billion for child and family services

OTHER ELEMENTS

– A ban on foreclosing on federally backed mortgages through mid-May, and a four-month ban on evictions by landlords who rely on federal housing programs.

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Covid-19 aid: S'poreans can make early use of $500 SkillsFuture Credit top-up, all employers can get training support

SINGAPORE – From May, all employers who send their workers for selected training programmes can receive additional support from SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) funding, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced on Thursday (March 26).

They will receive enhanced absentee payroll support at 90 per cent of hourly basic salary, capped at $10 per hour, up from 80 per cent.

The measure will cover eligible courses that start before Jan 1, 2021, to provide additional cash flow relief for employers in view of the worsening coronavirus situation.

Currently, such support has only been provided for sectors directly affected by the Covid-19 outbreak such as the aviation, tourism, food services and retail trade sectors, and lasts for a shorter period of three months.

From April 1, the enhanced absentee payroll rates will be extended to the land transport and arts and culture sectors. They will also be eligible for enhanced course fee support of up to 90 per cent of course fees, up from a baseline rate of 50 per cent. 

In the Budget in February, it was announced that a one-off SkillsFuture Credit top-up of $500 for Singaporeans aged 25 years and above would be made available from October. Singaporeans will now be able to make early use of the top-up for selected courses from April 1, ahead of its full implementation date, said Mr Heng.  

“I hope this will help many more workers, job seekers, and self-employed persons make use of the down time to learn, develop new skills, and stay employable,” he said.

Mr Heng also emphasised the need to build economic resilience at all levels, including in research and development (R&D), food supply and at the industry level.

The matching rate under the SG Together Enhancing Enterprise Resilience (Steer) programme will now be doubled, with Enterprise Singapore matching $1 for every $2 raised through qualifying industry-led initiatives, he said. The programme supports industry-led initiatives to help companies tide over economic uncertainties, and build longer-term capabilities.

Funds set up by trade associations and chambers (TACs) or other industry groupings to help businesses survive and thrive amid the coronavirus outbreak can apply for the programme.

Examples of what the funds can be used for include helping firms to defray costs such as rental and wages, marketing and branding and productivity solutions.

Mr Heng also urged businesses to make use of this down time to digitalise, restructure and transform.

The SMEs Go Digital Programme, which supports businesses in building technological capabilities, will be enhanced to help SMEs implement safe distancing and business continuity measures.

The maximum support levels for the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) and the Enterprise Development Grant (EDG) will be raised to 80 per cent and 90 per cent respectively to spur transformation, he said. The enhancements to these three schemes will last till December (2020).

The PSG defrays the costs for adoption of pre-approved digital solutions, while the EDG encourages the adoption of technology and innovation to increase productivity.

The Covid-19 outbreak has also reinforced the importance of investing in R&D to prepare for critical challenges, such as in managing pandemics and ensuring food security, said Mr Heng. More details on the Government’s R&D investments under its masterplan for research, innovation and enterprise will be provided towards the end of the financial year, he said.

Singapore is also building up its national stockpile of health supplies, including masks and hand sanitisers, said Mr Heng. He added that the country is strengthening its food resilience for the long term and aims to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs by 2030, up from less than 10 per cent today.

“Some may be concerned about the impact on our food supplies, arising from supply chain disruptions. We need not worry,” he said, noting that Singapore has in place a robust, multi-pronged strategy to ensure that it continues to have an adequate supply of safe food.

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Parliament: Proposal to delay S'pore election by having president form caretaker govt is unconstitutional, says Teo Chee Hean

SINGAPORE – Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean on Wednesday (March 25) told Parliament that delaying elections by having the president form a caretaker government –  a proposal from opposition leader Tan Cheng Bock – is unconstitutional.

He was responding to a question from Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who had asked for the Government’s stand on Dr Tan’s suggestion.

Dr Tan, who ran for president in 2011 and now leads the Progress Singapore Party, earlier called for elections to be delayed until after the Covid-19 outbreak situation has eased. He said that if the elections could not be held by the April 2021 deadline, the president could form a caretaker government with some of the MPs.

SM Teo said: “I’ve sought the advice of the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) on whether this can be done. The advice of the AGC is, to delay an election beyond the required date in such a manner is unconstitutional.”

Mr Teo explained that the only circumstance in which an election can be put off is when a state of emergency is declared – something that has never happened here. And even in such an event, he noted there is no legal basis or practical need for the president to form a new government if the incumbent Cabinet is still in office.

“It is not helpful to mislead people into thinking that such an option exists to put off elections indefinitely and for the president to form a new government when this goes against the Constitution,” he said.

“To suggest this shows a disregard for or lack of understanding of the Constitution. Putting forward constitutionally unworkable proposals at a time of serious national crisis can only confuse and mislead Singaporeans to the detriment of Singapore and Singaporeans,” he added.

Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, also questioned whether a caretaker government is a good way for a country to deal with a crisis.

“Even if there is a caretaker government under a state of emergency, it would by definition be a caretaker. It would be hobbled by the fact that it lacks the explicit mandate of voters and would therefore not be in a position to take major decisions on behalf of Singaporeans,” said Mr Teo.

“This is the fundamental problem,” he said. “Just when we need a government with a clear mandate to pull out all the stops in a crisis, to implement strong mitigation measures, to mobilise our resources and reserves to implement strong economic stabilisation measures to save jobs and livelihoods, and to steer the country through the Covid-19 crisis, a caretaker government would not have a mandate to do so. So how can this be in the best interest of the country and our people?”

The release of the boundaries report on March 13 had sparked speculation that an election was imminent.

On the actual timing of the election, Mr Teo noted that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said that no decision has been taken yet. PM Lee had also laid out two options: wait and hope that the coronavirus pandemic stabilises by the constitutional deadline, or to go for early elections and give the new government a clear and fresh mandate to steer Singapore through the crisis.

Mr Teo said: “The longer we wait, the more unpredictable, difficult and dangerous it could be. Compounding this will be the uncertainty that comes with when the election will be held as we go through the year trying to face this crisis together.

“Alternatively, a country can go for early elections, settle who will lead the country through this major crisis, give the new government a clear and fresh mandate, a full term ahead, legitimacy to take major decisions, tough decisions in the interest of Singaporeans.

“Today, more than ever, we need a government that the people have expressed confidence in to take us through this unprecedented health crisis and stabilise the economy and safeguard our people’s lives and livelihoods.

“When you are sailing into a storm, you want to be certain who your captain is and that he will not be changed halfway. You want to make sure that he’s there together with you, working with you, guiding you through the storm.”

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Mnuchin expresses hope a deal is 'very close' on $2 trillion coronavirus aid package in U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A far-reaching coronavirus economic stimulus package remained stalled in the U.S. Senate on Monday as lawmakers haggled over its provisions, but the U.S. Treasury secretary voiced confidence a deal would be reached soon.

Democrats said the $2 trillion measure contained too little money for states and hospitals and not enough restrictions on a fund to help big businesses.

A 49-46 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance, as the Republican-controlled chamber remained deadlocked for a second day. Only one Democrat, Senator Doug Jones, voted with Republicans to advance the bill.

Congress has already passed two packages of legislation to blunt the economic toll of the pandemic, which has killed more than 550 people in the United States and sickened more than 43,800, thrown millions out of work and led state governors to order nearly a third of the nation’s population to stay at home.

Tempers frayed as Republicans accused Democrats of obstruction during a national emergency, but negotiators from both parties and Republican President Donald Trump’s administration continued meeting in private rooms where they have spent days trying to agree on a relief package.

“Why are the American people still waiting? Why are Democrats filibustering the bipartisan bill they helped write?” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

Democrats insisted it needed to include more oversight provisions for a $500 billion fund to help large businesses.

Trump was asked at a White House briefing who would provide oversight of how the funds are used, and responded that he would. “I’ll be the oversight,” he told reporters.

Democrats said they thought an agreement was close.

“Take a deep breath. We’re gonna pass this bill,” Senator Dick Durbin, the chamber’s No 2 Democrat, said.

‘VERY CLOSE’

But talks continued.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Trump administration’s point person on coronavirus legislation, shuttled in and out of Senate leaders’ offices.

“I think we’re very close,” Mnuchin told reporters. “We’re trying to finish it up tonight.”

Trump’s administration launched a major push last week for action to blunt the economic impact – and steep stock market decline – from the pandemic, after Trump himself spent several weeks dismissing the virus’ risks.

The Senate measure includes financial aid for ordinary Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries, such as airlines.

Republicans said Democrats were seeking to add unrelated provisions, such as expanded tax credits for wind and solar power and increased leverage for labor unions.

Democrats said Republicans were trying to add provisions that would exclude nonprofit groups from receiving small-business aid, and extend a sexual abstinence-education program that is due to expire in May.

Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi released her own version, which would add billions of dollars to help states conduct elections by mail.

Republicans normally hold a slim 53-47 majority in the chamber, short of the 60 votes they need to advance most legislation. But the coronavirus has trimmed their ranks, making it even harder to advance legislation without significant support from Democrats.

Republican Senator Rand Paul said on Sunday he tested positive for the virus. But since he kept circulating on Capitol Hill after getting tested, including an alleged visit to the Senate gym, several other Republicans decided to self-quarantine as a precautionary measure.

Paul said he would not even know he had contracted the disease if he had not ignored recommendations and sought testing. “The broader the testing and the less finger-pointing we have, the better,” he said in a statement.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said her husband, John Bessler, contracted pneumonia and coughed up blood after contracting the disease. She said she was not at risk because she had not seen him in person for two weeks.

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Parliament alcohol ban: Speaker cracks down on drinking culture over coronavirus fears

The Speaker of the House of Commons announced that the sale of alcohol from catering venues will be suspended until further notice. However, Sir Lindsay did stress that the decision will be kept under constant review. 

Sir Lindsay said: “Some members and key Parliamentary staff are still required to work on the estate to enable the House to continue to fulfil its important constitutional function.

“As a workplace, it is important that they continue to have access to adequate canteen facilities.

“A number of venues have been closed but in those that remain open, we are employing a range of measures to encourage social distancing. 

“While encouraging diners to use takeaway options where possible.”

He continued: “The following outlets remain open, tearoom, terrace cafeteria, debate dispatch box, the members smoking room remains open but there is no service.

“I can confirm from today that the sale of alcohol in the House of Commons catering venues has been suspended until further notice.

“I actually took that decision on Friday evening.

“All these measures will be kept under constant review.”

At the time of writing Britain has the 10th highest amount of COVID-19 cases in the world. 

The UK has just less than 5,900 cases in total.

The death toll in Britain is currently 289. 

A total of 135 people have recovered from the coronavirus within the United Kingdom.

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There are currently more than 5,400 active COVID-19 cases within Britain. 

Worldwide there have been more than 358,000 COVID-19 cases. 

The death toll has reached more than 15,000 at the time of writing. 

More than 100,000 people have recovered from the virus across the globe. 

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Member of U.S. Vice President Pence's office tests positive for coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A member of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s office has tested positive for the coronavirus but neither President Donald Trump nor Pence have had close contact with the individual, Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller said in a statement on Friday.

Miller said Pence’s office was notified on Friday evening about the positive test. The statement did not name the individual. “Further contact tracing is being conducted in accordance with CDC guidelines,” she said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pence is leading the White House task force that was formed to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

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Coronavirus: UK ‘can turn the tide’ in the next 12 weeks, Boris Johnson says

Boris Johnson has said the UK “can turn the tide” against coronavirus in the next 12 weeks – as he revealed the government is in talks to buy “hundreds of thousands” of tests to reveal if people are immune.

Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, the prime minister also said the first British patient had been put in a randomised trial for a treatment for COVID-19.

Mr Johnson thanked Britons for their “huge efforts” in complying with government advice on stopping the spread of the disease.

He said: “We’re asking students to put their education on hold, we’re asking people not to socialise in the normal way and already we can see the impact this is having on the UK economy and on business, on great, great companies.

“So it’s vital that we in government stand behind them when what we are asking everyone to do is so crucial for saving literally thousands of lives by fighting this virus.”

Quizzed by Sky News political editor Beth Rigby over his 12-week figure – and whether he was saying UK life could return to normal by the summer – Mr Johnson said: “I am very confident that we’ll get this thing done.

“I am very confident that we’ll beat coronavirus.

“I think we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks, but it depends on collective, resolute action.

“The encouraging thing is the more disciplined we can all be in doing that, the greater the chances the scientific community will be able soon to come up with fantastic results on testing to say nothing of the other medical treatments.”

However, later asked what he meant by “turning the tide”, the prime minister admitted the government “don’t know how long” the coronavirus outbreak will last for.

“What I want to do is get on top of it,” he said.

“At the moment, the disease is proceeding in a way that does not seem yet to be responding to our interventions.

“I believe a combination of the measures that we’re asking the public to take and better testing, scientific progress, will enable us to get on top of it within the next 12 weeks and turn the tide.

“Now, I cannot stand here and tell you by the end of June we will be on the downward slope.

“It’s possible, but I simply can’t say that’s for certain. Of course not.

“We don’t know where we are, we don’t know how long this thing will go on for.

“But what I can say is this is going to be finite, we will turn the tide and I can see how to do it within the next 12 weeks.”

It comes as the number of people who have died after contracting coronavirus in the UK has risen to 137.

Earlier on Thursday, the government published emergency legislation in which it is seeking urgent new powers to try and contain the spread of COVID-19.

The Coronavirus Bill, which is set to be rushed through the House of Commons in a single day on Monday, will give the government the power to shut down the UK’s ports and airports and allow police to detain and quarantine people suspected of having coronavirus.

The proposed laws will also allow the government to “restrict or prohibit events and gatherings during the pandemic in any place… and, where necessary, to close premises”.

However, there is “zero prospect” of restrictions on travel in and out of London over the coronavirus pandemic, Downing Street said as it moved to dampen down speculation that a full-scale lockdown of the capital could be enforced.

Dozen of Tube stations closed in London on Thursday, with a reduced service running from Friday.

Mayor Sadiq Khan has told Londoners they should only travel unless they “really, really have to”, but he insisted the network must remain open to aid front-line health workers.

Coronavirus is estimated to be most widespread in the capital.

The prime minister has previously said the spread of COVID-19 in London was “a few weeks ahead” of other parts of the country.

More follows…

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