Donald Trump has declared a national emergency in response to the spread of coronavirus, allowing the US government to release aid to areas in the world’s largest economy affected by the expanding outbreak.
In an announcement from the White House on Friday, the president said the US would also waive interest on federal student loans and purchase crude oil to boost the country’s strategic petroleum reserve. US stocks moved sharply higher as he spoke to end the day up 9.3 per cent.
Mr Trump said the emergency declaration would unlock $50bn in extra money to combat coronavirus, as the number of cases in the US rose to 1,678, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 41 deaths reported so far.
The US president was flanked by Mike Pence, the vice-president, and top health officials as he spoke. He was also accompanied by the chief executive of several US retailers, including Walmart, who offered to set aside part of store parking lots for drive-through coronavirus testing. In defiance of CDC guidelines calling for “non-contact” forms of greeting, Mr Trump shook hands with the business leaders as they made brief remarks from the podium.
Mr Trump had previously dismissed the disease as “so well under control” and a “hoax” perpetrated by Democratic politicians, but he has since felt growing pressure to take action to contain the spread of the virus and limit the damage to the US economy and financial markets as he campaigns for re-election.
The move to declare a national emergency came two days after Mr Trump imposed a sweeping ban on the entry of foreign nationals who had recently spent time in many parts of Europe, where the coronavirus is spreading rapidly.
But the travel restrictions, unveiled in a primetime televised address, failed to soothe investors, who are digesting the reality that coronavirus is already infecting growing numbers of people within US communities, from Seattle in Washington state to New York City and its suburbs. Many US states, as well as the District of Columbia, have closed schools in response to the outbreak, and barred large events.
Mr Trump said on Friday the administration may have to add the UK to the list of countries facing travel restrictions. “It was looking good but the results have been building up pretty rapidly,” he said.
The Trump administration has been criticised for rolling out tests across the country much too slowly, which has made it harder for health authorities in many states to assess the severity of the outbreak and respond appropriately.
Mr Trump said he did not take “responsibility” for the lacklustre pace of testing in the US, and promised that millions of people would soon be able to access them. But he also said that he did not want “everyone running out” to get a test.
The president also said he would “most likely” be tested for coronavirus “fairly soon”, although the details were still being worked out. Mr Trump stood next to a Brazilian official last weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort who has since tested positive for coronavirus. Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president, said on Friday he had tested negative for the disease.
Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, have been immersed in negotiations on a package of stimulus measures to help the US economy weather the disease, which threatens to push the country into recession.
Both Ms Pelosi and Mr Mnuchin said that an agreement was near, but Mr Trump poured cold water on hopes of a bipartisan deal on Friday, saying Democrats were “not giving enough” in the negotiations.
“They are not doing what’s right for the country,” he said.
Democrats have been pushing for provisions such as paid sick leave for workers, a boost in food aid and jobless benefits, and increased funding for federal healthcare benefits for low-income families. But the Trump administration wants targeted financial help for certain affected industries, such as airlines and hospitality, as well as a more sweeping payroll tax cut.
Coronavirus business update
How is coronavirus taking its toll on markets, business, and our everyday lives and workplaces? Stay briefed with our coronavirus newsletter.