U.S. eyes aid for airlines; sees no domestic travel curbs for now


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday said he was in close touch with Congress about helping U.S. airlines weather a massive downturn in business due to sweeping travel restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus.

Mnuchin told ABC News’ “This Week” program he was talking with U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi about measures this week to help airlines and other sectors reeling from a collapse in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We need to focus on the airline industry. This is an unprecedented situation,” he told the ABC program. “The president is going to use all the tools that are in the toolbox, and we will work with Congress on a bipartisan basis.”

“The Speaker and I are already in conversations about airlines, which (are) critical to us, hotels, cruise ships, more SBA lending, more liquidity, some type of stimulus,” he added.

Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) on Sunday said it will halt service to London from Detroit and Dublin flights from New York after the White House announced it was imposing new travel restrictions on United Kingdom and Ireland.

American Airlines Inc (AAL.O) on Saturday said it plans to cut 75% of its international flights through May 6 and ground nearly all its widebody fleet.

Delta, American Air Lines and United Airlines, the three largest U.S. airlines, are in talks with the U.S. government about potential assistance, but no details have emerged.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CBS’s “Face the Nation” program the administration would discuss “a number of new proposals” for the airlines with U.S. lawmakers this week, but gave no details.

Top U.S. infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci on Sunday warned Americans that the coronavirus outbreak could get worse before it gets better, but said he did not expect the United States to restrict domestic travel in the near future.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News’ “This Week” program he was confident the U.S. government was doing everything needed to contain the outbreak and avert a worst-case scenario.

The disease has infected some 156,465 people have been around the world, and 5,838 have died, according to a Reuters tally. The United States has reported at least 59 deaths.

Fauci told ABC that early U.S. moves to block travel from China had helped, as would new restrictions on travel from Europe. He said there had been some discussion on the president’s coronavirus task force about limiting travel within the United States, but he did not see that happening for now.

“They’ve been discussed, but not seriously,” he said. “I don’t see that right now in the immediate future. But remember, we are very open-minded about whatever it takes.”

Mnuchin told “Fox News Sunday” the government would focus on shoring up the airline, hotel and cruise ship industries, but insisted that would not amount to any kind of “bailout.”

“If you’re providing liquidity to good businesses that just need liquidity for three to six months, where you’re taking collateral and you have security, that’s not a bailout,” he said.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal, David Lawder and Doina Chiacu and David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Daniel Wallis