06 de abril de 2020
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Fed cuts rates to zero, chaos at US airports, virus numbers rise in Americas

Washington, Mar 15 (efe-epa).- The US Federal Reserve decided on Sunday to cut the benchmark interest rate, the fed funds rate, to between zero and 0.25 percent with an eye toward stimulating economic activity and combatting the detrimental effects of the spread of the coronavirus on the world economy.

Washington, Mar 15 (efe-epa).- The US Federal Reserve decided on Sunday to cut the benchmark interest rate, the fed funds rate, to between zero and 0.25 percent with an eye toward stimulating economic activity and combatting the detrimental effects of the spread of the coronavirus on the world economy.

The Fed cut the fed funds rate from the previous target range of 1 percent to 1.25 percent and said it would stay at 0-0.25 percent "until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals."

The Fed also launched a huge quantitative easing program to help protect the economy amid the disruptions and turmoil caused by the virus. The program will take the form of $500 billion of Treasury Bonds and $200 billion of agency-backed mortgage securities and will begin on Monday.

The institution said in a statement that it was prepared to use "all" its tools to support the flow of credit to homes and businesses. The last time the Fed cut interest rates to zero was during the 2008 global financial crisis.

Also on the weekend the requirement that all passengers arriving in the US from Europe undergo health screening to rule them out as carriers of the coronavirus has created chaos at US airports, forcing travelers to wait for hours to get through border control points.

According to people affected by the controls, the very fact that travelers must wait for hours in tightly-packed lines along with other untested people from other flights contradicts US government recommendations to avoid crowds, one of several often-repeated warnings designed to reduce the spread of the sometimes deadly new virus to which humans have no immunity.

Similar scenarios are playing themselves out at many of the 13 airports selected to serve as entry points for passengers from areas around the world heavily affected by the virus. These airports include Dallas, Chicago and New York, where chaos in the flight arrivals area and long lines are preventing many people from making their flight connections on time.

President Donald Trump on Sunday acknowledged the chaos at the airports and apologized for the inconvenience and asked the public for their understanding.

"We are doing very precise Medical Screenings at our airports. Pardon the interruptions and delays, we are moving as quickly as possible, but it is very important that we be vigilant and careful. We must get it right. Safety first!" wrote Trump on Twitter on Sunday.

Starting at midnight on Friday, the US has been enforcing entry bans on foreigners coming from 26 European countries and will add the United Kingdom and Ireland to that list on Monday. The travel ban sparked a huge wave of Americans returning home before the airlines began to cancel flights from Europe due to scarce demand.

According to media reports, the waits for passengers at the Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the largest air terminal in the US, were so long that airport personnel were distributing food and water to the crowds, and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker called the situation "unacceptable."

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot accused the Trump administration of endangering the health of passengers because of bad planning and the lack of enough personnel to screen passengers in a timely way.

Passengers from Europe, South Korea, Iran and China must wait in line to have their passports checked and to submit a customs declaration, along with other forms asking about their medical condition, and later must wait in another line to be medically screened to determine if they are showing any coronavirus symptoms.

So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 41 people have died and 1,629 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the US, but other unofficial calculations have found that about 3,000 cases have been detected in the US and 62 people have died.

New York, with 729 cases, is the state with the highest number of confirmed coronavirus patients, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported Sunday. Three people have died there, and Cuomo called upon the US government to increase hospital capacity because 80 percent of the state's 3,000 intensive care beds are currently occupied.

The governor added that starting Monday approximately half the public employees in Westchester, Rockland, New York and Long Island counties will be working from home, and he has called for reducing public services to only essential functions and for the recall of retired doctors and medical personnel to help deal with the health care crisis.

Around the Americas, the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc and disrupting daily and economic life.

In Colombia, President Ivan Duque announced Sunday that foreigners will not be allowed entry into the country starting on Monday, although foreigners residing in Colombia will not be included in that ban. He also said on Twitter that all Colombian and foreign passengers will need to enter obligatory preventive isolation for 14 days. Thirty-four cases have been confirmed to date in Colombia, most of them people who recently arrived from countries such as Spain, Italy or the United States.

On Saturday, Colombia closed its border with Venezuela, cancelled almost all public events and tightened other measures to try and limit the spread of the virus.

The government of Nicaragua, meanwhile, refused to take any measures against the virus, a decision that has sparked controversy and revived internal socio-political conflicts. The government of Daniel Ortega reportedly does not intend to report on cases of Covid-19 and no quarantine has been established anywhere in the country with Vice President Rosario Murillo saying that the government "will not establish any kind of quarantine" in the future.

El Salvador and Nicaragua are the two Central American nations that have not reported any Covid-19 cases, but the Salvadoran government has completely closed its doors to visiting foreigners and is keeping foreigners who have arrived there in quarantine.

Paraguay has implemented a 15-day quarantine, as decreed by the government on March 10 as one of its "drastic measures" to deal with the virus, and has not ruled out taking more measures such as partially closing the borders and making additional economic decisions although only two cases have been detected there so far.

The measures taken so far include the suspension of all school classes and the banning of all public gatherings, including church services, theater shows, political and entertainment activities.

In Puerto Rico, three cruise ships that had been scheduled to dock at the port of San Juan, were forced to return to Barbados and Florida. Four cases have been confirmed in the US commonwealth, three of whom were people traveling on board a cruise ship.

In Ecuador, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus rose from 26 to 37, while 273 people remain under isolation, the SNGRE risk and emergencies service reported on Sunday. Cases have been reported in five of Ecuador's 24 provinces, with the highest totals being reported in Guayas, with 19, and in Los Rios, with 10. One person has died from the disease so far.

Ecuador's foreign ministry said Sunday that it will suspend all passenger flights from abroad starting March 17 and lasting until April 5, although cargo shipments of various kinds will not be affected.

Cuba is postponing sporting events at which foreigners were to have participated until April 30 in light of the four coronavirus cases detected in the communist country so far, three of them Italian tourists and one local citizen, whose wife recently arrived from Italy, the European country hardest hit by the virus so far.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Sunday participated in a government event in Brasilia three days after he called on demonstrators not to participate in protests and despite restrictions imposed by the authorities on gatherings and other events.

Brazil has 121 confirmed cases and 1,496 suspected cases, not all of which will test positive. Bolsonaro himself was tested for Covid-19 after at least six people in his retinue tested positive after a trip to the US, but the president's test came back negative.

Since last Wednesday, Brazilian authorities have suspended all classes and public events in Brasilia.

Haiti closed its borders, including its frontier with the Dominican Republic, and banned incoming flights from Europe, Latin America and Canada. The measures will remain in place for two weeks and could be extended, although Dr. Patrick Dely, head of the Health Ministry's epidemiology department said that no cases of coronavirus have been detected. Cargo shipments from abroad will still be allowed to cross the borders and only passenger flights to and from the US will be allowed to continue.

Meanwhile, the Peruvian government raised to 71 the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country and said it is evaluating ordering a general quarantine to hinder the spread of the virus. The latest official report released just after 1 pm on Sunday said that 58 of the cases were in Lima, upping the total confirmed cases from the earlier level of 43.

Agriculture and Irrigation Minister Jorge Montenegro said that the government was considering imposing a general quarantine as "one measure among several" that it has been evaluating for several days, adding that "the important thing is to act with ... responsibility and we're asking the public to remain calm."

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra said on Twitter that he is "in ongoing meetings with ministers and authorities of the three levels of government with en eye toward evaluating the best decisions to deal with the coronavirus" but adding that the measures "in no way include closing commercial establishments for basic products, pharmacies or banks, which will be maintained permanently supplied and operating."

Montenegro called on the public to remain at home and not to venture out unless it is to buy basic goods such as food, thus avoiding contact with as many other people as possible.

Costa Rican authorities reported Sunday that the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus rose to 35, eight more than had been diagnosed as of Saturday, and the government ordered the complete closing of all bars, discos, and casinos, although others had been ordered to limit their occupancy to just half their official capacity.

A total of 350 schools have been closed nationwide and a special hotline has been set up for people who have questions about the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the state-run factory that produces isopropyl alcohol has been ordered to increase production of the antiseptic.

Although authorities have asked people to socially distance themselves to prevent the spread of the virus, Health Minister Daniel Salas said Sunday that the public must heed the government's recommendations to wash their hands, avoid close contact with other people and public gatherings - this after thousands of people clocked to the beach on the weekend.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday declared a "collective social quarantine" in six states and Caracas, a measure that will begin at 5 am on Monday and will be implemented in all zones where greater concentrations of coronavirus cases have been found. The states in question are Caracas, La Guaira, Miranda, Zulia, Tachira, Apure and Cojedes

Maduro said that seven new Covid-19 cases had been confirmed, bringing the total number to 17 so far in Venezuela, although the first two cases were only discovered last Friday.

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