Dr Anthony Fauci warns that holiday travel could increase the spread of COVID-19 and bring the US to a ‘critical point’.
US President Donald Trump, on holiday in Florida, has finally signed a $2.3 trillion financial package that is crucial to millions of jobless Americans, after coming under pressure from legislators.
The White House confirmed the outgoing president had signed the bill shortly after he tweeted: “Good news on Covid Relief Bill. Information to follow.”
Trump, who has been pictured playing golf at his Mar-a-Lago resort over the Christmas weekend, had been under pressure from legislators on both sides to stop blocking the pandemic aid and government funding bill, which had been approved by Congress last week.
The Republican president had demanded the bill be changed to increase the size of stimulus cheques for struggling Americans to $2,000 from $600, putting not only the enormous package of economic and public-health assistance at risk, but the basic functioning of the government itself.
“I have told Congress that I want far less wasteful spending and more money going to the American people in the form of $2,000 checks per adult and $600 per child,” Trump said in a statement announcing he had signed the bill.
White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said the president was “sending a strong message” that “wasteful items” needed to be removed from the bill and added that a “redlined” version would be sent back to Congress with a requirement that such items be removed from the bill.
Other conditions include a review and possible repeal of Section 230, under which social media giants cannot be held legally responsible for objectionable words, photos or videos that people post to their platforms.
Deere says Congress also agreed to “focus strongly on the very substantial voter fraud” in the November elections. There is no evidence of such fraud and the courts have thrown out Trump’s efforts to bring legal action.
The financial package passed with wide margins in the House and Senate and with the understanding of members of both parties that Trump supported it. The bill had to be signed by midnight on Tuesday (05:00 GMT) to ensure the federal government did not run out of money.
“This is President Donald Trump’s last stand at 1: Being relevant and 2: Being able to cause chaos and discord in Washington,” political analyst Eric Ham told Al Jazeera.
Legislators were urging Trump to sign the legislation immediately and then push Congress for more money given the economic hardship faced by many people and the continuing surge of COVID-19.
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan said the president’s delay meant that people were unlikely to get the money in time to meet rental payments and pay their bills, especially with a public holiday on Friday.
“It’s better than nothing, which is what people went into Christmas having,” Jordan said. “There is a lot of criticism of the president for delaying unnecessarily in these critics view and making things even harder on people than it has already been for the past nine months.”
As well as unemployment benefits and relief payments to families, the bill was also necessary for money for vaccine distribution, businesses, cash-starved public transport and protections against eviction.
The United States has reported more cases of coronavirus – and more deaths – than any other country in the world and experts are warning of further pain once the Christmas and New Year holidays are over.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious diseases expert, has warned travel during the holiday season could push the country to a “critical point” in the pandemic.
According to COVID Tracking Project data, the US has recorded an average of 185,903 new daily infections over the past seven days, while the number of people in hospital with the disease reached 117,344 on Saturday. The total number of confirmed infections since the outbreak began surpassed 19 million on Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University, by far the highest number in the world.
Congress, which is usually adjourned during the last week of December, is preparing to return to work on Monday.
The Democrats, who control the lower House of Representatives, have proposed an increased relief payment of $2,000 but Republicans have expressed concern about the cost.