September 11, 2020

This is VOA news. Reporting by remote, I'm David Byrd.

President Donald Trump is headed for a rally in the battleground state of Michigan as he tries to move past revelations that he was determined to play down the threat of the coronavirus last winter even as he talked of the dangers in private.

At an afternoon news conference Thursday, the president repeated his assertion that he downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic because he did not want to start a panic.

"No, I don't wanna jump up and down and start screaming 'Death! Death!' because it's not what it's about. We have to lead a country. We're leading a great country and we're doing a great job."

The president has come under fire after recorded interviews he did with veteran journalist Bob Woodward surfaced in which the president said he knew the virus was airborne and knew it was deadly.

In public, Trump downplayed the seriousness of the disease, saying it would just go away.

Nearly 192,000 people have died in the United States since the pandemic began.

Senate Democrats have scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package, saying the measure shortchanged too many pressing needs as the pandemic continues its assault on the country. We get more from AP's Sagar Meghani.

At a mostly party-line vote, Democrats blocked the $500 billion package, but leader Chuck Schumer saying it did not go far enough to help Americans.

"... this emaciated bill is not a serious attempt ...."

He predicted a deaf would send GOP chief Mitch McConnell back to the negotiating table after wrangling back in March resulted in a more generous rescue bill.

McConnell argued before the vote some help for the people was better than not.

"... they'll see exactly who has their backs," accusing Democrats of focusing more on hurting President Trump, then helping others.

Sagar Meghani, Washington.

This is VOA news.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has called for 35 billion more dollars including 15 billion in the next three months for the World Health Organization's program to back vaccines, treatments and diagnostics against COVID-19.

Guterres told an online event on Thursday that the $3 billion contributed so far is "seed funding" but was less than 10 percent of what the WHO wants for the program formally called the Access to COVID-19 Tools or ACT-Accelerator.

"The ACT-Accelerator is the global solution we are looking for. Now we need to make important political choices if the world is to reap its promise. First, we need a quantum leap in funding to increase the chances of a global solution to get the world moving, working and prospering again."

Financial support has, so far, lagged behind goals, as nations or governments including the European Union, Britain, Japan and the United States reach bilateral deals for vaccines that prompted Guterres and WHO General-Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to plead with nations to contribute to the ACT-Accelerator.

Chinese authorities have told major media outlets not to cover Disney's release of the film "Mulan" after an international backlash over links to the controversy of Uighur Muslims in China. Reuters Emer McCarthy reports.

The $200 million production is set to open in Chinese theaters on Friday and no reason was given in the notices, but the sources said they believed it was because of one of the movie's filming locations - the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

China's clampdown on ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang has been criticized by some governments including the United States and a number of human rights groups.

It's also drawn criticism from pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong over the lead actress. Liu Yifei had expressed support for Hong Kong police last year in the midst of anti-government protests there.

That's Reuters Emer McCarthy.

The U.S. government reports that layoffs remained elevated. We get more from AP correspondent Mike Gracia.

Applications for unemployment benefits stayed at 884,000 last week, indicating layoffs in the U.S. haven't dropped amid the coronavirus pandemic. That figure far exceeds the number of Americans seeking benefits in any previous week before this year and economists say the failure of Congress to agree on a new emergency rescue package is hurting the economy.

With the $600-a-week federal jobless benefit having expired, the Trump administration is providing a stripped-down $300-a-week. But so far that program is operational in just 12 states.

Mike Gracia, Washington.

Reporting by remote, I'm David Byrd, VOA news.