President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency as cases of coronavirus in the U.S. rose to over 1,200 with 33 dead, 31 of them in Washington State.
Speaking outside the White House alongside Vice President Mike Pence, Trump said: “We’re working very hard on this. We’ve made tremendous progress.
“Europe was just designated as the hotspot right now and we closed that border a while ago. Whether that was through talent, or luck,” he added.
But he denied any responsibility for delays in making testing available as his administration has come under criticism for being too slow to respond.
Trump said, “I don’t take responsibility at all” for the slow rollout of testing.
House approves legislation to provide relief
Early on Saturday, the House approved legislation to provide direct relief to Americans suffering physically, financially and emotionally from the coronavirus pandemic.
As the House prepared to vote late Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi trumpeted the hard-fought package that will provide free testing, sick pay for workers, enhanced unemployment benefits and bolstered food programs.
“We did what we said we were going to do: Put families first,” said Pelosi, flanked by Democratic lawmakers, including many freshmen. The House passed the bill after midnight on a bipartisan vote, 363-40. It now goes to the Senate.
The announcement comes just days after Trump announced a total ban on Europeans travelling to America, and amid criticism over the response to the virus by the White House.
Trump said that he was declaring a national emergency that would open up US$50 billion in federal funding.
“No resource will be spared, nothing whatsover,” he said.
He said a half a million additional tests would be made available by Sunday night and 1.4 million by next week and five million within a month. “I doubt we’ll need that many,” he said.
“This will pass. We’re going to be even stronger for it. We’ve learned a lot, a tremendous amount,” he said.
He announced that he was ordering that the Energy Department stockpiled oil while oil prices were low: “We’re going to fill it to the top,” he said. “We’re going to fill it up. It’s a good time to fill it up.”
Earlier this week, former vice-president and Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden said that the Trump administration’s response to the virus left America “woefully unprepared”.
Trump likely to be tested after repeated exposure
President Donald Trump said Friday he will “most likely” be tested for the novel coronavirus, as questions swirled about why he, his top aides and his family weren’t doing more to protect themselves and others after repeated exposure to COVID-19.
Trump has now had multiple direct and indirect contacts with people who have tested positive for the pandemic virus.
Trump spent time last weekend at his private club in Florida with at least three people who have now tested positive. The Brazilian Embassy in Washington announced late Friday that the country’s chargé d’affaires, Nestor Forster, tested positive after sitting at Trump’s dinner table.
Several top administration officials, including Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, also met last week with an Australian Cabinet minister who on Friday was confirmed positive.
Meanwhile, the Dow Jones – the index that measures the performance of the U.S.’s biggest firms – is in freefall since the coronavirus outbreak, dropping 10% on Wednesday, its worst close since 1987.
With Trump facing an election in November 2020, comparisons have been made to 2008, when the financial crisis dealt a massive blow to the adminstration of George W. Bush and saw the Republican Party defeated in the election later that year by Barack Obama.