President Donald Trump announced that he is declaring the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, as Washington struggles with providing Americans with relief and officials race to slow the spread of the outbreak.
Speaking from the Rose Garden, Trump said, “I am officially declaring a national emergency.” He said the emergency would open up $50 billion for state and local governments to respond to the outbreak.
Trump said he was also giving Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar emergency authorities to waive federal regulations and laws to give doctors and hospitals “flexibility” in treating patients.
Trump spoke as negotiations continue between the White House and Congress on an aid package, but there was no announcement of a breakthrough, as House Democrats prepare to vote on their own measure Friday.
The declaration would allow the administration to utilise the Stafford Act, the federal law that gives FEMA responsibility for coordinating disaster relief efforts, to provide emergency funding to state and local governments.
Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic rippled across the globe, as more events were canceled (including the Masters); schools closed to millions of students; the state of Louisiana delayed its presidential primary until summer; and the Group of Seven leaders planned a virtual crisis conference.
After facing heated, bipartisan criticism over US. testing, the Trump administration earlier Friday announced a series of steps to boost the availability of tests and said it would partner with the private sector to set up drive-through testing sites.
The World Health Organization warned that Europe “has now become the epicenter” of the pandemic, and more European Union nations took action – shutting down schools, implementing travel restrictions and passing other emergency measures. Spain declared a national emergency.
“Europe has now become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic.”
Meanwhile, Poland, Scotland, Ukraine and Greece each reported their first fatalities Friday. In Greece, the deceased patient was a 66-year-old man who traveled to Israel and Egypt on a religious pilgrimage in late February, Reuters reported.
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