Trump declares coronavirus a national emergency, freeing $50 bln in funds

Day four of Italy's nationwide coronavirus lockdown, in Naples
People wait in line to a supermarket, on the fourth day of an unprecedented lockdown across of all Italy imposed to slow the outbreak of coronavirus, in Naples, Italy March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Ciro de Luca

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency over the fast-spreading coronavirus, opening the door to providing what he said was about $50 billion in federal aid to fight the disease.

Trump made the announcement at a Rose Garden news conference as he battled to show Americans that he is aggressively addressing the virus after appearing to play down the threat for weeks.

Trump said he was declaring the national emergency in order to “unleash the full power of the federal government.” He urged every state to set up emergency centers to help fight the virus.

Pressure has been mounting for Trump to declare an infectious disease emergency under the 1988 law that would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide disaster funds to state and local governments and to deploy support teams. The power is rarely used. Former President Bill Clinton in 2000 declared such an emergency for West Nile virus.

“To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words. The action I am taking will open up access to up to $50 billion – a very important and a large amount for states and territories or localities in our shared fight against this disease,” he said.

Trump said the federal government was partnering with the private sector to accelerate production of test kits to make them more widely available to Americans.

He said there will be about 5 million coronavirus tests available but doubted that many will be needed. He urged Americans to only seek out the test if they feel they need it.

“We don’t want people to take a test if we feel that they shouldn’t be doing it and we don’t want everyone running out and taking – only if you have certain symptoms,” he said.

Alongside Trump was Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health expert who is on Trump’s coronavirus task force.

“We still have a long way to go. There will be many more cases. But we’ll take care of that,” said Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. “What’s going on here today is going to help it end sooner than it would have.”

Trump to declare emergency as coronavirus chaos spreads

 U.S. President Donald Trump will declare a national emergency over the fast-spreading coronavirus on Friday, opening the door to more federal aid to combat a disease that has infected 138,000 people worldwide and left more than 5,000 dead.

Trump, who some experts criticised for being slow to respond to the crisis, is expected to make the announcement at a news conference at 3 p.m. (1900 GMT), according to a source familiar with the matter.

The rare declaration would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which controls more than $40 billion in funding set aside by Congress for disaster relief, to provide money to state and local governments and to deploy support teams.

The impact of the coronavirus on everyday life deepened around the world as more schools and businesses closed, the global sporting calendar was left in shreds and people faced greater restrictions on where they could go.

The final economic cost is not yet known, but travel bans have hammered airlines and travel companies while financial markets have been hit by a wave of panic selling.

Despite a limited recovery on Friday, the main U.S. stock indexes faced their biggest weekly declines since the 2008 financial crisis, and they remain around 25 percent below the record highs hit in mid-February.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that Europe was now the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, after the number of cases in China, where it originated, slowed to a trickle.

The WHO’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan said social distancing was a “tried and tested method” to slow the spread of a virus but “not a panacea” that would stop transmission.

“Blanket travel measures in their own right will do nothing to protect an individual state,” he said.

GREAT AND GOOD

World leaders, sports stars and actors were among the tens of thousands of people hit by the virus.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would be in isolation for two weeks after his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for coronavirus. She said she would “be back on my feet soon”.

Movie star Tom Hanks announced in Australia that he and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, have both tested positive, as have Mikel Arteta, manager of English soccer club Arsenal, and Chelsea forward Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Golf’s jewel in the crown, The Masters, and England’s top-flight soccer league joined the long list of elite sporting events to be cancelled or postponed.

Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and the French Ligue 1 are all on hold and Germany’s Bundesliga followed suit on Friday.

But sport’s biggest showpiece, the Olympics, will still go ahead as planned, according to Tokyo organisers.

Responding to comments by Trump that the event could be delayed for a year, Japanese Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto told reporters: “The IOC and 2020 organisers are not at all considering cancelling or postponing the Games.”

EMERGENCY ACTION

Central banks worldwide acted to shore up money markets after cratering share prices drove a rush for cash, hitting many regional currencies and threatening a surge in short-term borrowing costs.

In China, which bore the brunt of the economic fallout from the coronavirus in the first few months of 2020, authorities late on Friday cut banks’ reserve requirements for the second time this year.

Japan’s central bank pledged to buy 200 billion yen ($1.90 billion) of five- to 10-year Japanese government bonds and also inject an additional 1.5 trillion yen in two-week loans.

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Thursday offered a hefty $1.5 trillion in short-term loans to stimulate the economy and stabilize the financial system.

The European Union said it would establish a 37 billion euro investment initiative as part of a package of measures to cushion the bloc’s economies from the impact of the coronavirus.

In Italy, which after China has been hardest hit by the coronavirus, the death toll has jumped by 250 to 1,266 in the last 24 hours, the Civil Protection Agency said.

The total number of cases also rose to 17,660 from a previous 15,113, despite draconian measures across the country to restrict the movement of people.

In the northern region of Lombardy, at the epicentre of Italy’s coronavirus epidemic, authorities asked for even stricter steps.

“If we can resist for at least eight days, perhaps we will see things turn around,” Giulio Gallera, the local councillor responsible for welfare, told RAI 3 television.

POPE FRANCIS SPEAKS OUT

In Rome, Pope Francis rebelled against a decision by his Roman Catholic Church to close all the 750 churches in the Italian capital.

“Drastic measures are not always good,” the pope said on Friday in improvised remarks at the start of his morning Mass, streamed on the Internet.

Within hours, the Church in Rome rowed back on the order and said all parish churches and those run by religious communities could remain open.

In Paris, some shared the Pope’s defiance.

At lunchtime in a busy restaurant area, hundreds of people soaked up the sun, eating, chatting and smoking on cafe terraces, adamant that the coronavirus would not get in the way of their lives.

“It’s a stressful atmosphere to talk about closing everything and staying at home. We need to be careful and stay in contact,” said Alexandra Baronnet, a manager in a large business. “It’s important in life.”

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