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Haunted house attractions in the pandemic: Are they open? Are they safe?

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(CNN) — It feels like 2020 has provided more than enough scares. But for people still seeking an extra jolt of fear and adrenalin, it’s the time of year for those shocking haunted house attractions.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has curtailed a lot of long-distance travel, especially by plane, these Halloween-themed attractions around the world usually draw a more local crowd. So they shouldn’t be hurt by people making more short-haul trips this year.

They do face other hurdles, though.

In the carefree nights of 2019, the big questions on these attractions were: Which ones are the best? How scary are they?

In the cautious nights of 2020, we have different questions: Are haunted house attractions even opening this year? And if they are, is it safe to go?

With cases of Covid-19 again on the rise, medical experts advise a careful approach.

A mix of openings and closings

The results: Seven are open this year. Three have decided to shutter for 2020. The seven that are open are:

The Bates Motel is taking reservations in 2020.

The Bates Motel is taking reservations in 2020.

Christopher Brielmaier/Rogues Hollow Productions/Bates Entertainment Group

Bates Motel, 1835 Middletown Road, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania 19342; +1 610 459 0647
The Dent Schoolhouse, 5963 Harrison Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45248; +1 513 445 9767
Erebus, 18 S Perry St.., Pontiac, Michigan 48342; +1 248 332 7884
Haunted Overload, 20 Orchard Way, Lee, New Hampshire 03861; +1 855 504 2868
Netherworld Haunted House, 1313 Netherworld Way, Stone Mountain, Georgia 30087; +1-404-608-2484
Scream Town, 7410 US-212, Chaska, Minnesota 55318; +1 888 317 7308
The 13th Gate: 832 St Philip St, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70802; +1 225 389 1313

Citing safety concerns because of Covid-19, three of 2019’s top 10 decided not to reopen. They are Freakling Bros. Trilogy of Terror in Las Vegas, the Haunted Trail of Balboa Park in San Diego and Scared by the Sound (at Playland Park) in Rye, New York.

A longtime Las Vegas favorite, Freaking Bros. Trilogy of Terror decided not to open for the 2020 season.

A longtime Las Vegas favorite, Freaking Bros. Trilogy of Terror decided not to open for the 2020 season.

Edison Graff www.stardustfallout.com

In a message to fans on its website, Freaking Bros. in Nevada said, “Current regulations will not allow us to present our horror shows with the intensity that we are famous for, nor can we guarantee a way to protect our patrons or our valued employees and volunteers properly during this pandemic.

“After months of deliberation and careful assessment, we’ve regretfully had to acknowledge that the only responsible way to handle this is to put safety first, and close for the 2020 season.”

The venues that are opening are emphasizing Covid-19 safety.

The 13th Gate is where folks in Louisiana find their thrills.

The 13th Gate is where folks in Louisiana find their thrills.

13th Gate

For example, the 13th Gate in Louisiana has an entire page devoted to Covid-19 measures. Visitors to amusement parks this past summer will find this all quite familiar.

13th Gate’s measures include mandated masks for guests and actors, virtual queues, reduced capacity, temperature screenings and new setups to maintain social distancing.

An inside look at one attraction

CNN Travel talked with Ben Armstrong, a co-owner of Netherworld near Atlanta, about how the attraction is adapting to the pandemic during its 24th season.

Armstrong said planning for a big Halloween attraction is a year-round endeavor, and they eventually realized the pandemic would not be fading away by the time their operating season arrived in late September.

“We worked at it for months. We had to come up with new ways to present the attractions. It’s been right down to the wire,” he said. “We weren’t even sure we’d be able to open. We didn’t even know if we should open, depending on how the crisis was evolving.”

Armstrong said they had to come up with plans to open in a safe manner, and they worked closely with the Georgia Department of Public Health in planning.

A new way of operating

Netherworld, located near Atlanta, has put more emphasis on its outdoor areas for 2020.

Netherworld, located near Atlanta, has put more emphasis on its outdoor areas for 2020.

Courtesy NETHERWORLD Haunted House

Among the measures is operating fewer days than usual.

“We’re taking off Mondays and Tuesday to make sure we’re not overstressing our staff and take a little time between operations.”

Armstrong said they had to think about both staff and visitors in planning for an opening that would greatly reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

“We wanted to do a quality show like we always do, but we wanted it to be safe. The trick was how to achieve both those goals simultaneously,” he said.

“We’ve reduced the amount of actors in the attraction, and we’ve radically reduced the amount of attendees. In addition, we increased the number of special effects and animations. We’ve added about 100 on top of what we already had.”

Armstrong said the ways actors engage with patrons have also changed.

“They don’t make the sounds they usually make. They use voice amplifiers and recorded sounds. They’ll be silent when they scare you. They use strange sound devices that startle people. They have props to thrust toward people. The whole way they engage you has changed dramatically.”

Actors at Netherworld wear masks, and they’ve set up one-way traffic flow to avoid people backtracking.

“We’ve increased the size of the outdoor midway. We were angling toward this anyway, but we made big changes to our physical campus.”

Caution across the Atlantic, too

Bodmin Jail in the Cornwall region of England is up and running for the 2020 season.

Bodmin Jail in the Cornwall region of England is up and running for the 2020 season.

©Twelve Architects 2020/Bodmin Jail

Some haunted attractions in Europe are also opening, keeping many of the same precautions in mind.

A favorite in Cornwall, England, is historic Bodmin Jail, which was built in 1779 for King George III.
They have an entire page online on what visitors need to do before they arrive and once they arrive to remain Covid-safe. They have a timed entry system. They’ve eliminated interactive elements and set up a one-way traffic flow like Netherworld has done.
Despite the pandemic, the theme park Movie Park Germany is hosting its annual Halloween Horror Festival. Teutonic terrors include a Circus of Freaks and a hostel that’s most unwelcoming. However, this park not too far from the Rhine River in Bottrop has been planning since summer to make sure the scares are safe ones.
Manuel Prossotowicz, the director of marketing and sales at Movie Park Germany, said in an interview with the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions that they would build bigger outdoor lines, set up a one-way flow of patrons and cancel pre-shows that tend to congregate people in small spaces.

The great outdoors

The Forge: Lemont Quarries is a park focused on outdoor activities and is in full autumn glory.

The Forge: Lemont Quarries is a park focused on outdoor activities and is in full autumn glory.

Courtesy The Forge: Lemont Quarries

Some haunted house attractions that already had outdoor components are making expanded use of those areas. For newly opened The Forge: Lemont Quarries, it helped that it was already an outdoors-focused park.

About 22 miles from downtown Chicago, this recreation area full of zip lines, ropes courses, rock climbs and the like opened on July 17 with the pandemic well under way. But because of the spread-out nature of the place and singular nature of the activities, they didn’t have all of the same struggles that theme parks have had.

Co-founder Jeremie Bacon said that helped with opening during the pandemic and planning their main Halloween activity — a laser tag Zombie Apocalypse — as well.

“Aside from the … health and safety advantages of an outdoor venue during Covid, The Forge environment naturally lends itself to creating a unique Halloween activation experience,” he said. “We’ve got creepy forests to hide ghouls and goblins and a whole series of captivating outdoor lighting systems … that add to the Halloween vibe.”

He said zombie laser tag battles will “take place in a heavily wooded and secluded area of The Forge. … The game will consist of two teams battling tactical laser tag against each other while simultaneously fending off flesh eating zombies.”

Drive-thrus and drive-ins

Actors give a red-lighted haunting performance at the drive-in haunted house in Tokyo.

Actors give a red-lighted haunting performance at the drive-in haunted house in Tokyo.

PHILIP FONG/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

Cars and road trips have become resurgent during the pandemic. After all, you can control who is in your vehicle. Operators of Halloween-themed attractions have responded this year with drive-thru and drive-in shows, which allow you to stay out of range of people not in your party

Kowagarasetai, a Japanese haunted house and horror event production company, created a haunted house drive-in located in a covered parking garage in a nondescript building in downtown Tokyo. It gives visitors a 360-degree, front-row experience that simulates being stuck in a car during a zombie outbreak.
The Haunted Road in Orlando lets you enjoy the frights from the safety of your car.

The Haunted Road in Orlando lets you enjoy the frights from the safety of your car.

Courtesy The Haunted Road

US attractions are joining the trend, including the Haunted Drive in Houston and the Haunted Road in Orlando, Florida, where guests drive and park their car at each scene.

With any luck, your car won’t get into a fury and go all Christine on you!

But is it safe to attend?

Even with safety measure in place, it’s a legitimate question to ask yourself: Should I visit one of these attractions with the pandemic still going on?

Dr. Shannon Hopson is an endocrinologist in Corvallis, Oregon, and the mother of two boys who love amusement parks. CNN Travel wanted to know what she thought as a professional and as a parent.

“We’ve never gone to haunted houses before, but my kids are at the age where they are starting to enjoy scary things, and they have asked about visiting haunted houses this year,” she said. “I told them no — enclosed spaces with lots of people who may or may not be wearing masks just doesn’t seem safe to me at all.”

She’s more open to outdoor attractions than those held inside.

“Any indoor haunted houses seem like a bad idea, and I would recommend avoiding them completely. There are some places that have outdoor versions of haunted houses. Being outdoors, these feel a lot safer to me, even though there’s still the potential for overcrowding.”

If you’re willing to take the chance, though, we wanted to know her advice.

“In addition to limiting any haunted ‘houses’ to just outdoor ones, I would also look for places that require masks and limit the number of people who can go through at any given time,” she said.

“It may feel silly to wear masks outdoors, but close contact with someone in another party who got scared and ended up getting too close to you (while yelling or laughing) is a very likely possibility.”

Armstrong of Netherworld makes the case that we still need ways to momentarily get away mentally from what’s been a tough year.

“We’re creating this escape from the real world — it’s a fantasy. I think people really need that kind of escape right now. It’s so important.”

CNN’s Kaori Enjoji contributed to this story

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A gruesome murder in France rekindles the country’s debate on free speech and Islam

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The murder last week of a teacher who used images of the Prophet Muhammad in lessons about freedom of expression — by a teenage Muslim refugee — has sparked a solidarity movement in France and reignited the debate over Islam’s role in the country.

History and geography teacher Samuel Paty, 47, brought scrutiny this month when he showed his 12- to 14-year-old students two caricatures of Muhammad published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo — the same images that in 2015 inspired jihadists to kill 11 staff members at the magazine and six others in Paris. Parents and teachers at the school, located just 20 miles outside the capital, said Paty gave his Muslim pupils the opportunity to leave the classroom or look away so as not to anger them.

Idolatry is forbidden in Islam, and many devout Muslims believe any depictions of Mohammed, or any revered prophet, to be taboo. But many also found the Charlie Hebdo drawings particularly offensive not just because they depicted the prophet, but because they did so in a way that some critics said perpetuated racist, bigoted stereotypes of Muslims.

A weeks-long uproar ensued. One student’s father called for a “mobilization” against Paty — including his firing — and posted the school’s address and the teacher’s name on social media. An Islamist militant even accompanied upset parents to the school to push for the instructor’s ouster.

But the situation turned deadly last Friday when Abdoullakh Abouyezidovitch, an 18-year-old refugee from Chechnya, beheaded Paty with a butcher knife as the teacher made his way home. French authorities said the suspected attacker, who lived about 40 miles away from the school, asked students to identify Paty moments before killing him. The teenager was shot dead after he tried to stab and shoot back at authorities who closed in on him.

Police found a Twitter account suspected of belonging to the attacker since he posted a picture of the severed head along with a message: “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, who on Saturday visited the site of the murder, said the beheading appeared to be an “Islamist terrorist attack” committed because Paty “taught freedom of expression.” He added that the terrorist sought to “attack the republic and its values,” further noting “this is our battle and it is existential. They [terrorists] will not succeed. … They will not divide us.”

On Monday, police raided numerous homes across France as part of its probe into Paty’s killing. About 15 people have been taken into custody and 51 Islamic organizations are under investigation, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said on Monday. The “enemies of the Republic” won’t be given “a minute’s respite,” he told the Europe 1 radio station.

It’s no surprise France is taking the suspected terror attack very seriously. Since the Charlie Hebdo assault in 2015, the last few years have seen high-profile knife attacks, strikes against police on the Champs-Élysées, and a coordinated assault in Paris that killed 130 people and injured hundreds more.

But Friday’s killing strikes at the core of two of France’s most turbulent debates, which of late have somewhat fused together: whether there should be limits on freedom of speech, and how Muslims should integrate into French society.

And it’s a conversation that could continue to roil the nation’s politics for years to come.

France and “Islamist separatism”

For over a year, Macron promised to detail his views on the role of Islam in France’s secular culture. On October 2, he finally delivered that address.

“What we must attack is Islamist separatism,” he told the nation, saying extremists preyed upon desperate Muslims in desolate neighborhoods, basically creating anti-French enclaves by spreading their radical Islamic “ideology” and “project.”

“We built our own separatism ourselves,” he continued, arguing French authorities made such a situation possible by huddling immigrants together in areas apart from good-paying jobs or French public schools. To solve the problem, he offered some reforms, like within four years forbidding foreign-trained imams (Muslim religious leaders) to preach in France. Instead, all imams must be certified in the country in order to lead a congregation.

It was clear Macron, who has long called for an “Islam of France” that seamlessly integrates Muslims into the country’s society, aimed to distinguish between extremists and all Muslims. Still, his speech, and the thinking underlying it, received mixed reviews.

Some said his statements — namely, “Islam is a religion that is in crisis today, all over the world” — were incendiary, not measured. They also accuse Macron, who is up for reelection in 18 months, of trying to garner some right-wing bona fides by taking a tougher stance against Islamic extremism. “The repression of Muslims has been a threat, now it is a promise,” tweeted Yasser Louati, a French Muslim activist.

Others, like the Atlantic Council think tank’s Benjamin Haddad, said the speech and Macron’s views on the issue set the right tone.

“It underlined the urgency to fight separatism,” Haddad, who has defended Macron’s policies in Washington, DC, since 2017, told me. “It’s really more about certain neighborhoods and areas that aren’t necessarily violent … but will progressively socialize radical ideology as French republican ideals can’t get through anymore.” It’s more than an ideological fight, he added. “We’re talking about losing territory.”

“If you go to Paris, everyone will tell you there’s a problem. It’s one of the deepest societal problems in France today,” he concluded.

But what the disagreement over Macron’s speech underscores is how France has struggled to accept Muslims as they come. For example, the country has banned headscarves in public schools and for government employees while at work. The government says such measures are meant to help Muslims integrate with France’s secular culture, while critics say the focus on Islamic garb stems from bigotry.

This issue burst out into the open after the terrorist attack following the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Local debate roiled over whether outlets should refrain from producing images of Mohammad, as Islamic teaching forbids, or whether doing so is a celebration of France’s history of criticizing all religions. After all, the magazine often lampoons religious leaders like the pope.

Thousands took to France’s streets to defend that history. On Sunday, they rallied in major cities like Paris, Lyon, and Marseille in defiance of the attack, in Paty’s memory, and to bolster the notion that freedom of expression in France has no limits — even if that leads one to show images of the Islamic prophet.

“We are the result of our history: These values of liberty, secularism and democracy cannot remain just words,” a demonstrator in Paris told French media. “We have to keep them alive, and being here helps do that.”

Politicians who attended the rallies made similar comments. “I want teachers to know that, after this ignoble act, the whole country is behind them,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Sunday. “This tragedy affects each and every one of us because, through this teacher, it is the republic that was attacked.”

Importantly, the number of racist attacks in France, including against Muslims, has dropped in recent years. Such statistics offer hope that the potential scapegoating of Muslims in the coming weeks and months may not lead to a rise in hate crimes.

But Macron’s policies and the aftermath of the attack indicate that Muslims are once again under a national microscope. That, at the very least, won’t help with the assimilation problems the country aims to solve.


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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx poised to reach out and touch an asteroid

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Imagine having to parallel park a 15-passenger van in a narrow parking spot surrounded by two-storey boulders. Then imagine doing it on an asteroid hurtling through outer space at speeds of more than 62,700 miles per hour (101,000 km/h).

On Tuesday, a mission led by US space agency NASA and a team of researchers from the University of Arizona in the United States will do just that, sending commands to a small spacecraft more than 200 million miles (321.9 million kilometres) away, and guiding OSIRIS-REx to vacuum up bits of an asteroid named Bennu and bring them back to Earth. Inside those samples could be clues about the origins of life itself.

Four years ago, the US space agency deployed OSIRIS-REx on a mission to explore Bennu, a primordial piece of space debris that can trace its origins back to the formation of the solar system. Now, OSIRIS-REx is poised to land on Bennu’s surface, making for NASA’s first-ever asteroid sample return mission, and the biggest delivery of extraterrestrial material since the Apollo era of the 1960s and ‘70s.

It’s a technological feat nearly two decades in the making, and its main goal is to collect a pristine, unaltered sample from the asteroid’s surface. To do so, the spacecraft will utilise a special robotic arm with a collection head on the end. On Tuesday afternoon, the plucky little craft is expected to descend to Bennu’s surface, extend its arm and blast the asteroid with enough nitrogen gas to push surface material up into the collection head.

Studying Bennu is going to help us better understand the role asteroids might play in delivering these life-forming compounds to Earth.

Jamie Elsila, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

It will take OSIRIS-REx four hours to traverse the 0.6 miles (one kilometre) distance down to the surface, moving approximately 3.9 inches per second (10 centimetres per second). Once it gets close to the surface, the craft will extend its more than nine-foot-long (three-metre-long) robotic arm, called TAGSAM (or Touch-and-go Sample Acquisition Mechanism), which is topped with a sample collection device resembling a large shower head. It’s designed to blow a small burst of nitrogen gas onto Bennu’s surface to stir up some dust and rocks.

This material will then be collected in a ring around the head, which can store just about four pounds (1.8kg) of material. OSIRIS-REx’s goal is to collect at least 0.13 pounds (60g) of surface material from Bennu, which may not sound like a lot, but is an incredibly tricky manoeuvre to pull off that requires extreme precision – especially on a rocky, uneven surface like Bennu’s, where boulders can be the size of football pitches.

OSIRIS-REx was launched by NASA in September 2016 to travel to Bennu.

One shot

OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennu in 2018 and meticulously mapped the asteroid’s surface across a two-year period to determine the best place to collect the sample. The result? A 66-foot-wide (20-metre-wide) crater near Bennu’s north pole that the team calls Nightingale. It was selected primarily because the crater appears to be young, which means that the exposed rock is likely to consist of pristine samples from when the asteroid was formed billions of years ago.

OSIRIS-REx’s collection head was designed to work best on a flat, sandy surface, which Bennu does not have. So scientists will have to aim carefully, as it could spell trouble for the mission if the arm touches down on top of rocks that are more than a few centimetres in diameter — severely limiting how much material that could be collected. Also, TAGSAM only has three nitrogen bottles, so the team can’t afford to waste them.

The team basically has a single shot to collect as much material as they can from Nightingale crater. That’s because once the nitrogen gas is fired, the surface material is disrupted, flying – hopefully – up into the collection head. It’s an opportunity literally years in the making.

Mapping the asteroid

OSIRIS-REx has two key tools that will help the spacecraft determine if it’s safe to land and start the collection process on Tuesday.

“There are two key products we’ve built, one of which is a detailed map of the asteroid’s surface, complete with potential hazards for the spacecraft,” Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator from the University of Arizona, told Al Jazeera. “And the other is a catalogue of features in the crater.”

If a sample is collected, it will be weighed and the team will determine if another attempt is necessary. But if all goes as planned and there is enough material in the OSIRIS-REx’s collection head, it will be stowed in a special canister that will be jettisoned when the spacecraft swings by Earth in 2023.

If this kind of chemistry is happening in the early solar system, it probably happened in other solar systems as well. It helps us assess the likelihood of the origin of life occurring throughout the galaxy and, ultimately, throughout the universe.

Dante Lauretta, University of Arizona

But if OSIRIS-REx’s onboard hazard map determines it isn’t safe to land in Nightingale, the spacecraft will abort the manoeuvre and the team will have to reassess its plans – and its maps. Both the onboard hazard map and the catalogue of features in the crater “change as a result of us firing the TAGSAM at the surface, so we will need to rebuild our maps,” Lauretta explained.

If the team fails to collect at least 0.13 pounds of material from Bennu on Tuesday, there is a second chance as early as December, but it might require relocating to a different crater. That manoeuvre would be a repeat of Tuesday’s plans, at another site near Bennu’s equator, called Osprey, which is equally enticing. Each dive is incredibly risky, so the team is hoping it will collect enough samples on the first try.

The samples OSIRIS-REx could send back to Earth could hold the keys to understanding how life formed here and elsewhere.

Pay dirt

Asteroid researchers have been waiting for years to get their hands on dirt from Bennu. These types of space rocks are incredibly interesting to scientists because asteroids contain pieces of the earliest materials that formed our solar system, and studying them might allow scientists to answer fundamental questions about the origins of the solar system. That’s because moons and planets have changed over time, but most asteroids have not.

“Asteroids are like time capsules floating in space that can provide a fossil record of the birth of our solar system,” Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of Planetary Science, told Al Jazeera. “They can provide valuable information about how planets, like our own, came to be.”

Bennu was selected as a target because scientists believe it is a small fragment of what was once a much larger space rock that broke off during a collision between two asteroids early on in our solar system’s history.

The rubble pile seen today is more than 4.5 billion years old, a perfectly preserved cosmic time capsule that could contain clues about the origin of life, Lauretta said.

“Bennu turned out to be exactly the kind of target we hoped it would be,” Lauretta said.

Thanks to data collected from orbit, the team has determined two key discoveries: first, that between 5 and 10 percent of Bennu’s mass is water, and second, that its surface is littered with carbon-rich molecules. This means that any samples returned to Earth could help scientists better understand what role asteroids played in bringing water to our planet, and seeding it with the prebiotic material that provided the building blocks for life.

Asteroids are like time capsules floating in space that can provide a fossil record of the birth of our solar system. They can provide valuable information about how planets, like our own, came to be.

Lori Glaze, NASA

Earlier this month, researchers on the OSIRIS-REx team made an exciting discovery, one that confirmed something the team suspected all along: Bennu is rich in organic material. The results were published in a series of papers in the journal, Science.

“Organic molecules make up all living things on Earth,” Jamie Elsila, a research scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, told Al Jazeera. “Studying Bennu is going to help us better understand the role asteroids might play in delivering these life-forming compounds to Earth.”

Studying that material could also help scientists discover whether life exists elsewhere in the solar system, as well.

“If this kind of chemistry is happening in the early solar system, it probably happened in other solar systems as well,” Lauretta said. “It helps us assess the likelihood of the origin of life occurring throughout the galaxy and, ultimately, throughout the universe.”

Once the asteroid samples are back on Earth, they will be catalogued by scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The agency will keep the majority of the material, studying some of it immediately and sending some samples to research groups around the world. NASA also plans to store a portion in a secure location in New Mexico for safekeeping.

“The Bennu sample is going to provide important science information now, but also for generations to come,” Elsila said.

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Down to the wire: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk pre-election stimulus deal

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US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin talked for 53 minutes Monday, but it’s unclear whether both sides will agree to a stimulus package in time for Election Day.

United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin “continued to narrow their differences” in a 53-minute telephone conversation on Monday about a fresh coronavirus relief aid package, Pelosi’s spokesman wrote on Twitter.

Pelosi hopes that by the end of Tuesday there will be “clarity” on whether a coronavirus stimulus bill can be passed before the November 3 elections, her spokesman, Drew Hammill, wrote. He said Pelosi and Mnuchin agreed to talk again on Tuesday, and staff working on the matter will continue “around the clock”.

Pelosi, the top elected US Democrat, said on Sunday that differences remained with President Donald Trump’s administration on a wide-ranging coronavirus relief package, but that she was optimistic legislation could be pushed through before Election Day. But, she said, an agreement would have to come through by the end of Tuesday to meet that deadline.

The White House has proposed a $1.8 trillion stimulus plan to help Americans struggling with the economic ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. Pelosi said that offer fell short in a range of areas, including tax credits for poor people, aid to state and local governments, worker protections and rent help. She has stuck to her demand for a $2.2 trillion aid and stimulus package.

Earlier this year, the US Congress passed $3 trillion in coronavirus relief, and many of the Republicans who control the Senate are loath to pass another giant stimulus bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said on Monday the Senate would vote on Wednesday on a $500bn proposal to target specific areas of need.

McConnell said the Senate would also have a separate vote on Tuesday on a new round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, a popular programme that was launched earlier in the pandemic with bipartisan support to provide loans to small businesses.

But Senate Democrats have been holding out for a larger overall aid package. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called the Republican plan “emaciated”, saying it abandons state and local governments in need and has inadequate funding for unemployment benefits. Senate Democrats blocked similar proposals last month.

McConnell, in remarks to the Senate, excoriated Pelosi for what he said had been her “all or nothing” position on approving more coronavirus aid. “The speaker’s Marie Antoinette act needs to end,” McConnell said.

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