US President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency over the novel coronavirus, unlocking up to USD 50 billion in federal funds to combat the fast-spreading pandemic that has killed over 5,000 people and triggered fears that the deadly outbreak will lead to a global economic recession.
The announcement came as infections and deaths soared in Europe, with the World Health Organization (WHO) calling the continent the pandemic’s current epicentre.
The deadly virus, which has killed over 5,000 people globally, including 41 in America has spread to 46 of the 50 US States, with nearly 2,000 cases being reported from across the country.
“It could get worse. The next eight weeks are critical,” Trump told a press conference at the Rose Garden in the White House.
“To unleash the full power of the federal government, today I’m officially declaring a national emergency,” he announced and said that the action will open up access to up to USD 50 billion in the fight against coronavirus.
The declaration of a national emergency, a rarely used presidential power, allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist state and local governments and coordinate the nation’s response to the crisis.
The deadly virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year, has infected more than 134,000 people globally.
The US president has asked every state to set up emergency operation centres immediately.
Every hospital has been directed to activate its emergency preparedness plan so that they can meet the needs of citizens, he said.
The emergency orders confer broad new authority to the secretary of health and human services and give doctors, hospitals and healthcare providers maximum flexibility to respond to the virus and care for patients.
“We will remove or eliminate every obstacle necessary to deliver our people the care that they need and that they are entitled,” Trump said, announcing a new partnership with the private sector to vastly increase and accelerate the capacity to conduct tests for the virus.
“We want to make sure that those who need a test can get a test very safely, quickly and conveniently. But 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 tests,” he said, adding that tests should be taken “only if you have certain symptoms”.
Using federal emergency authorities, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new test for the virus, Trump said, adding that he expects that up to half a million additional test will be available early next week.
The administration has been in discussions with pharmacies and retailers to make drive-through tests available in critical locations identified by public health professionals, he said.
The goal is for individuals to be able to drive up and be swabbed without having to leave their cars, Trump said.
President Trump said that all Americans had a role to play in defeating the novel virus, asserting that the most effective weapon right now was to limit the damage to the people and country by slowing the spread of COVID-19.
“The choice we make, the precautions we put into place are critical to overcoming the virus, reducing its spread, and shortening the duration of the pandemic, which is what it is,” he said.
Trump has suspended all travel from Europe, excluding the UK, to the US for the next 30 days to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The temporary ban comes into effect from Friday night.
“We must take all precautions and be responsible for the actions that we take and that we see other people take,” he said.
He has also issued a requirement suspending all medically unnecessary visits to various places, but in particular nursing homes.
Trump thanked search engine giant Google for helping to develop a website to determine whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location.
Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now and they have made tremendous progress, Trump said.
“Our overriding goal is to stop the spread of the virus and to help all Americans who have been impacted by this. Again, we don’t want everybody taking this test, it is totally unnecessary and this will pass. This will pass through and we are going to be even stronger for it,” he said.
Trump also waived interest on all student loans held by federal government agencies.
That will be until further notice, he said.
“Based on the price of oil, I have also instructed the secretary of energy to purchase at a very good price large quantities of crude oil for storage in the US strategic reserve,” the president said.
Vice President Mike Pence told the press conference that the coronavirus had spread to 46 US States.
He, however, said the risk of serious illness of the coronavirus remained low.
“We want to encourage every American to practice common sense,” said Pence, who also heads the White House coronavirus task force.
Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services chief Seema Verma said: “These temporary national blanket waivers are reserved for the rarest of circumstances, and they represent a massive mobilisation of our country’s resources to combat this terrible virus”.
The deadly virus first originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year. The WHO described the outbreak as a pandemic on Wednesday.