Coronavirus Live Updates: U.S. Considers Extending Tax Deadline as Infections Pass 1,000

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The effort to stem the economic fallout of the coronavirus took on new urgency around the world on Wednesday as ever more sweeping restrictions on the free movement of people threatened to upend daily life in more than 100 countries dealing with the public health crisis.

The Trump administration is considering extending the tax filing deadline from all Americans beyond April 15, while lawmakers are discussing a stimulus package.

The Bank of England joined central banks in the United States and Australia in taking steps to bolster investor confidence and ease pressures on the economy. The British central bank announced a surprise interest rate cut of half a percentage point — pushing the rate down to one-quarter of a percent.

With the entire nation of Italy locked down and movements among its 60 million citizens severely restricted, lawmakers there were considering drastic interventions, including suspending mortgage payments and delaying bills for essential services like utilities.

But the measures did not seem to immediately ease the concerns of investors in the Asia-Pacific region, where stocks fell broadly, led by drops of more than 2 percent in Japan, South Korea and Australia. The damage looked set to spread to Europe, where futures markets were betting on a glum opening, and to Wall Street.

Beyond the economic fallout, the rhythms of daily life continued to stutter as more countries announced school closures, employers urged people to work from home and high-profile events were canceled or curtailed.

The lockdown in Italy, which has more than 10,000 cases and 631 deaths, entered its second day, and European officials warned that similar actions might soon be needed elsewhere if the rate of new infections on the Continent continued to grow at its current pace.

Matteo Renzi, a former prime minister of Italy, told the Times that the sacrifices being made in the country would serve all of Europe.

“Today, the red zone is Italy,” he said. But in 10 days, he warned, it will be Madrid, Paris and Berlin. Italy needs to show how to stop it, Mr. Renzi said. If it fails, “The red zone will be Europe.”

Much can change in 10 days.

It was 10 days ago when New York announced its first confirmed case of the virus. On Wednesday morning, the National Guard was moving into the small suburban community of New Rochelle to help implement the nation’s first “containment area.” Churches, schools and synagogues within a one-square-mile area were closed and people’s movements restricted in an effort to head off further spread of the virus, which has infected at least 170 people in the state.

In Washington State, Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to announce a prohibition on community gatherings of 250 or more people in the Seattle area, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases approached 300 — the most in the country — and the number of deaths has reached 24.

The speed at which the virus has spread has compounded the consequences of a series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more widespread testing during the early days of the outbreak, when containment would have been easier.

The virus reached into the halls of government in Britain, where a health minister, Nadine Dorries, tested positive. She had attended a reception at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official residence two days earlier.

Waking up to the news Wednesday morning, lawmakers are now discussing suspending Parliament.

The Treasury Department is considering delaying tax payments beyond the April 15 deadline, according to a person familiar with the plans, as taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service brace for economic disruption from the spread of the coronavirus.

Treasury and White House officials have been discussing the idea of extending the tax deadline over the past week as the administration considers measures to relieve financial pressure on individuals and businesses struggling with fallout from a virus that has closed schools, kept workers at home and disrupted supply chains.

The I.R.S. could extend the tax payment deadline or waive penalties and interest for late payments.

The plan, which was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, came as Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee wrote to Charles Rettig, the I.R.S. commissioner, to ask for an update on the effect of the outbreak on tax filing season and for an evaluation of whether the agency needed to re-evaluate the traditional April 15 deadline.

On Monday, as stock markets plunged, President Trump said the administration would consider economic stimulus options, including a payroll tax cut and other relief. Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, said on Tuesday that the administration could use executive authority to help individuals and businesses, noting that “we have leverage on tax deferral.”

Delaying tax day would also ease logistical problems that the I.R.S. could face if more government workers were forced to work remotely. The tax collection agency has service centers across the country that require staff to have face-to-face contact with the general public.

As the nation scrambled to understand the scope of the escalating public health crisis, the number of known cases of coronavirus infection in the United States surpassed 1,000 on Tuesday night, signaling that the coronavirus was spreading widely in communities on both coasts and in the center of the country.

In yet another sign that the pace of infections was increasing, more than a quarter of the country’s cases were announced on Tuesday. As of early Wednesday, people in 37 states and Washington, D.C., had tested positive for the virus. There were at least 31 related deaths.

As health officials around the country take increasingly drastic measures to try to slow the virus’s spread, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State planned to announce on Wednesday a prohibition on community gatherings of 250 or more people in the Seattle area, according to a person involved in the discussions. The announcement is expected to target events such as sports games and entertainment gatherings while offering exceptions to schools and retail stores.

In California, second only to Washington State in positive cases, passengers continued to disembark from a cruise ship on which about two dozen people had tested positive for the virus.

As of Tuesday evening, about 1,406 people had been able to leave the ship, the Grand Princess, after it docked in Oakland. Some passengers and state officials expressed frustration about what they said was the slow pace of the departures.

“I don’t want to start crying, but I’m stressed,” said Denise Morse, from Davis, Calif., who has been quarantined in her stateroom since Friday. “This is very exhausting to experience.”

And across the country, more colleges canceled classes and told students not to return to campuses after their spring breaks.

Isabella Kwasnik, a senior at Harvard College, said the move was startling. “You spend four years at a university, and you work incredibly hard and expect that at the end you can tie a bow on it and wrap it up,” she said.

“But there’s this unexpected outcome,” she added. “It’s just a logistical and emotional nightmare.”

Some workers in Hubei Province, the center of the global epidemic and site of more than 3,000 coronavirus related deaths, are returning to their jobs, the government said, the first signs of normalcy after a weekslong lockdown.

The partial easing of the lockdown, which includes the lifting of some travel restrictions, came one day after Xi Jinping, the leader of China, visited Wuhan, the provincial capital. Mr. Xi’s presence indicated the government’s confidence that it had begun to bring the outbreak under control even as the rest of the world was just waking up to the threat.

The authorities said vital industries, including suppliers of medical equipment and agricultural products, would soon resume work.

In high-risk parts of Hubei outside Wuhan, river ports, insurance companies and those operating in the country’s key supply chains can also return to work.

The province’s social life remains curtailed. Movie theaters, gyms and karaoke bars — even those in low-risk areas — will stay closed. Schools will too until further notice.

Trains, automobile and airplane traffic can gradually restart in an “orderly” manner in the province’s lower risk areas, the government said.

Across China, there have been 80,963 confirmed cases and 3,162 deaths. In Hubei alone, where the epidemic has been most severe, there are a total of 67,773 confirmed cases and 3,046 deaths so far.

But also on Wednesday, Beijing announced tighter restrictions and quarantine measures on those entering the capital.

All travelers entering Beijing will have to self-quarantine at home or at a designated site for 14 days.

Those arriving in Beijing for a short business trip must stay at assigned hotels and are subject to testing. They cannot leave the premises until the results of the tests are determined, city officials said.

Nadine Dorries, a British health minister, confirmed reports late on Tuesday that she had tested positive for the coronavirus. She had attended a reception at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official residence two days earlier.

Ms. Dorries said in a post on Twitter that she had felt “pretty rubbish,” but hoped that the worst of the viral illness had come and gone. British news reports said she was the first member of Parliament to test positive.

Health officials were rushing to trace her contacts, which included dozens of constituents and lawmakers, as well as co-workers at the Department of Health and Social Care, according to British news outlets. She was at 10 Downing Street, Mr. Johnson’s residence, on Sunday for International Women’s Day.

The news prompted discussion in Britain about whether Parliament would need to be suspended. Lawmakers meet in the cramped House of Commons, sitting shoulder to shoulder on green leather benches and often spilling into the aisles and standing room areas, creating fertile conditions for illness to spread.

Some observers noted that Ms. Dorries appeared to have voted in the House of Commons about a week ago, meaning she had at least brief contact with other lawmakers at a time when she was presumably contagious.

But her most dangerous contact may have been with her 84-year-old mother, who is staying with her, Ms. Dorries wrote on Twitter late Tuesday night. “Thanks for so many good wishes,” Ms. Dorries wrote, adding that her mother had developed a cough. “She is being tested tomorrow,” she wrote. “Keep safe and keep washing those hands, everyone.”

Here are some of the most common questions that readers are asking today about how they can prepare for the coronavirus, how they can boost their immune systems and how they should react to the market (don’t, probably).

The Bank of England slashed its key borrowing rate on Wednesday before the opening of stock trading in London.

Britain’s central bank cut the rate by half of a percentage point, bringing it down to one-quarter of a percent. The move to support the economy was approved unanimously in an emergency meeting of the central bank’s policymaking board, the Bank of England said.

The move is intended “to support business and consumer confidence at a difficult time, to bolster the cash flows of businesses and households, and to reduce the cost, and to improve the availability, of finance,” the bank said.

The bank announced other measures to support small and midsize businesses.

During testimony before the Treasury select committee last week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, promised that the bank would “take all the necessary steps to support the U.K. economy and financial system.”

Andrew Bailey, who takes over as governor on Monday, also spoke in front of the Treasury committee and said that coronavirus would be the “first and most pressing issue” that the bank would face. “It is evolving very quickly and in an unprecedented and unexpected fashion, so we have to be nimble,” he added.

Wednesday’s move is the Bank of England’s first rate cut since the virus outbreak. The Federal Reserve did the same last week in the midst of a market sell-off.

In late January, the first confirmed American case of coronavirus had been reported in the Seattle area. But had the man infected anyone else? Was the virus already spreading?

Dr. Helen Y. Chu, an infectious disease expert in Seattle, had a way to monitor the region. As part of a research project into the flu, she and a team of researchers had been collecting nasal swabs for months from residents experiencing symptoms throughout the Puget Sound region.

To repurpose the tests for the coronavirus, they would need the support of state and federal officials. But officials repeatedly rejected her idea, interviews and emails show, even as weeks crawled by and outbreaks emerged outside of China.

By Feb. 25, Dr. Chu and her colleagues could not wait any longer. They began performing coronavirus tests without government approval. What came back confirmed their worst fear: They had a positive test from a local teenager with no recent travel history.

In fact, officials would later discover through testing, the virus had already contributed to the deaths of two people, and it would go on to kill 20 more in the Seattle region over the following days.

Federal and state officials said the flu study could not be repurposed because Dr. Chu’s lab did not have explicit permission from research subjects; the lab was also not certified for clinical work. While acknowledging the ethical questions, Dr. Chu and others argued there should be more flexibility in an emergency.

The failure to tap into the flu study was just one in a series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more widespread testing during the early days of the outbreak, when greater containment still seemed possible.

Even now, after weeks of mounting frustration toward federal agencies over flawed test kits and burdensome rules, states such as New York and California are struggling to test widely for the coronavirus. The continued delays have made it impossible for officials to get a true picture of the scale of the growing outbreak, which has now spread to 36 states and Washington, D.C.

There will be no live audience. No spin room. Virtually no traveling members of the press. This is a presidential primary debate in the age of coronavirus.

CNN and Democratic officials announced on Tuesday that “at the request of the campaigns and out of an abundance of caution,” the Democratic debate in Phoenix on Sunday between Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Bernie Sanders would be a significantly pared-down affair.

The live audience — whose jeers and cheers can be a major variable for the candidates onstage — will be missing. Instead, Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders will debate each other in an empty theater, joined only by a handful of moderators and television crew members.

The spin room, where campaign aides scramble after the debate to declare their candidates a winner in front of packs of deadline-addled reporters, is scrapped as well, along with the media filing center, the often-cavernous space where hundreds of political reporters gather to watch the television broadcast and write their reports.

The Democratic National Committee, which oversees the debates, said Arizona officials had told them the event “could proceed as planned.” But the party said it wanted to take additional measures to ensure “the safety of our staff, campaigns, Arizonans and all those involved in the debate,” a party spokeswoman, Xochitl Hinojosa, said in a statement.

The debate, scheduled for 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, was expected to follow a town hall-style format, where the candidates would respond to some questions posed by voters. CNN said that, at the moment, there were no plans to modify the format.

A prime-time debate with no in-house audience would be a highly unusual moment in the age of mass media campaigns, although it hearkens back to earlier days when presidential debates occurred in the privacy of closed television studios.

Mr. Sanders and Mr. Biden both called off primary night campaign events Tuesday as they awaited the results of voting in six states.

Reporting was contributed by Elaine Yu, Amy Qin, Alan Rappeport, Emily Cochrane, Sheri Fink, Mike Baker and Benjamin Mueller.

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