Trump declares coronavirus a national emergency, offers $50 bil.

Mar 14 ,2020. 1 hour ago – 11:33 – KYODO NEWS

WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency over the coronavirus outbreak, opening up access to up to $50 billion in funds for use in the nationwide fight against the rapidly spreading epidemic.

“To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort, today I am officially declaring a national emergency,” Trump said at a press conference as he urged medical institutions to enhance their preparedness and also unveiled measures to increase the availability of testing for the virus.

Trump is facing a critical leadership test ahead of the November election, as the virus scare grips the country and roils financial markets. The administration has also been facing criticism over the delay in rolling out testing.

The declaration suggested a shift from Trump’s earlier stance of playing down the threat such as by comparing it to influenza.

“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!” he tweeted on Monday.

But many states as well as the U.S. capital and New York City have declared a state of emergency. The entertainment industry, museums and other tourist spots are also shutting down, and major sports leagues are delaying or pausing their seasons.

Trump said Friday that the government will work with the private sector to “vastly increase and accelerate” the country’s testing capacity, although he added that he wants testing to be conducted only for those who need it and not for “everybody.”

The president said he is expecting 5 million tests to become available within a month.

Trump also said he will “fairly soon” be tested himself after concerns grew that he may have been infected after meeting in Florida with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s press secretary who later tested positive for the virus.

Looking ahead, Trump said “the next eight weeks are critical.”

The emergency declaration “gives the kind of power that we need to get rid of this virus and we’re going to do it very quickly…I hope we won’t need it very long.”

Trump also said his government will purchase “large quantities of crude oil” to fill the nation’s emergency crude oil reserve and waive interest on all student loans held by federal government agencies as school classes have been disrupted amid efforts to stop the disease from spreading.

On Wednesday, the administration said it will block the entry of foreign travelers from many countries in hard-hit Europe for 30 days from Friday and vowed to offer some economic relief to businesses and individuals affected by the disease.

But the announcement did little to reassure the public or financial markets, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average in New York suffering on Thursday its biggest percentage fall since the Black Monday stock market crash in 1987.

As of Friday, more than 1,600 people in 46 of the country’s 50 states and the U.S. capital have tested positive for the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 40 patients with the virus have died, it said.

The pandemic has started to directly affect the presidential election process. The Democratic presidential nomination contest scheduled to take place in Louisiana on April 4 will be postponed to June 20, local authorities said Friday, making it the first state to delay voting due to the epidemic.

The main Democratic presidential candidates — former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders — as well as Republican President Trump, who are all in their 70s, have cancelled their upcoming campaign rallies.