WASHINGTON / SINGAPORE: President Donald Trump declared a US national emergency over the quickly 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.
The impact of the coronavirus on everyday life deepened around the world, and it was detected for the first time in several more countries.
More schools and businesses closed to try to slow its spread, governments took other drastic steps, the global sporting calendar was left in tatters and people faced greater restrictions on where they could go.
“To unleash the full power of the federal government to this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency – two very big words,” Trump said in remarks at the White House.
He said the action will open up access to up to $50 billion in funds for states and localities in the fight against the coronavirus. Trump also urged states to establish emergency operations centers.
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Trump had faced criticism from some experts for being slow and ineffective in his response to the crisis and downplaying the threat.
Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, a seldom-used presidential power, enables the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist state and local governments and coordinate the US response to the crisis. The virus has killed 41 people in the United States.
The final global economic cost remains unknown, but travel bans have hammered airlines and travel companies, while financial markets have been hit by panic selling.
Despite a limited recovery on Friday, the main US stock indexes faced their biggest weekly declines since the 2008 financial crisis, and remain around 25% below the record highs achieved in mid-February.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) called Europe the epicenter of a coronavirus pandemic after the number of cases in China, where it originated, slowed to a trickle. The WHO called the death toll reaching 5,000 globally “a tragic milestone.”
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,” Ryan said.
In Washington, the Democratic-led US House of Representatives will pass a coronavirus economic aid package on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, but it was unclear whether Trump and his fellow Republicans would support it. The package would provide for free coronavirus testing and two weeks of paid sick and family leave for those affected by the virus, Pelosi said.