US Senate passes $2.2 trillion aid package as coronavirus deaths top 1,000 nationwide

American deaths from the coronavirus pandemic have topped 1,000 in another grim milestone for a global outbreak that is taking lives and wreaking havoc on economies and day-to-day routines everywhere.

In recognition of the scale of the threat, the US Senate late on Wednesday passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion (£1.85 trillion) economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems.

The unanimous, 96-0 vote came despite misgivings on both sides of politics about whether it went too far or not far enough, and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced.

The 880-page aid package is the largest economic relief bill in US history, its value equivalent to more than half of the nation's entire $4 trillion annual budget.

The number of dead in the US rose to 1,041 late on Wednesday, with nearly 70,000 infections.

The vote for the aid package was unanimous. Credit: AP

New York has emerged as the country's biggest coronavirus hot spot, spurring authorities to move to avert a public health disaster in the city.

A makeshift morgue was set up outside Bellevue Hospital, and the city’s police – their ranks dwindling as more fall ill – were told to patrol nearly empty streets to enforce social distancing.

Public health officials sought beds and medical equipment and issued calls for more doctors and nurses for fear the number of sick will explode the next few weeks, overwhelming hospitals as has happened in Italy and Spain.

New York University offered to let its medical students graduate early so they could join the battle.

President Donald Trump delivers Wednesday’s White House briefing as journalists observe social distancing. Credit: AP

President Donald Trump said of the greatest public-health emergency in anyone’s lifetime: “I don’t think its going to end up being such a rough patch.”

He said he anticipated the economy soaring “like a rocket ship” when the crisis was over, yet he implored Congress late in the day to move on critical aid without further delay.

Asked how long the aid pachage would keep the economy afloat, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “We’ve anticipated three months.

"Hopefully, we won’t need this for three months.”

Underscoring the package’s magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag equivalent to half the size of the nation’s entire $4 trillion annual budget.

Yellow cabs line an empty 42nd St. waiting for fares outside Grand Central Terminal Credit: Mary Altaffer/AP

New York State alone has accounted for more than 30,000 cases and close to 300 deaths in the US, most of them in New York City.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, again pleading for help in dealing with the onslaught, attributed the cluster to the city’s role as a gateway to international travellers and the sheer density of its population, with 8.6 million people sharing subways, apartment buildings and offices.

“Our closeness makes us vulnerable,” he said.

“But it’s true that your greatest weakness is also your greatest strength. And our closeness is what makes us who we are. That is what New York is.”

Some public health experts also attributed the city’s burgeoning caseload in part to the state’s big push to test people.

Troy Tassier, a Fordham University professor who studies economic epidemiology, suggested the increase showed New York would have fared better had it acted sooner to order social distancing.

Nearly seven million people in the San Francisco area were all but confined to their homes on March 17, and California put all 40 million of its residents under a near-lockdown three days later.

The order to stay at home in New York State did not go into effect until Sunday evening, March 22, and New York City’s 1.1 million-student school system was not closed until March 15, well after other districts had shut down.

After New York’s first positive test came back on March 1 — in a health care worker who had travelled to Iran and secluded herself upon returning — Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mr Cuomo initially cast the disease as a dangerous threat but one that the city’s muscular hospital system could handle.

That message soon changed.

Dr Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said at a briefing the number of new cases in New York City had been relatively constant over the last three days.

But she warned hospital cases would continue to increase because they reflected people who contracted the illness before full mitigation efforts kicked in, and urged city residents to follow White House recommendations.

“To every American out there, where you are protecting yourself, you are protecting others,” Dr Birx said.

Around the US, other states braced for a version of New York’s nightmare, with fears surrounding public events held in the weeks before the virus exploded.

A month after Mardi Gras in and around New Orleans, Louisiana now has the third-highest rate among states per capita in the US, according to the governor, with 65 dead, and the virus confirmed in three-quarters of the state’s 64 parishes.