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Trump declares national emergency over coronavirus, aiming to free billions in aid

US President Donald Trump addressed reporters outside the White House about the country's response to the spread of the coronavirus.
US President Donald Trump addressed reporters outside the White House about the country's response to the spread of the coronavirus. © France 24 screengrab

US President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency over the fast-spreading coronavirus, opening the door to providing what he said was about $50 billion in federal aid to fight the disease.

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Trump made the announcement at a news conference outside the White House as he battled to show Americans that he is aggressively addressing the virus after appearing to play down the threat for weeks.

Trump said he was declaring the national emergency in order to "unleash the full power of the federal government". He urged every state to set up emergency centres to help fight the virus.

Pressure has been mounting for Trump to declare an infectious disease emergency under the 1988 Stafford Act that would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide disaster funds to state and local governments and to deploy support teams. 

Trump has invoked the Stafford Act many times during his presidency, approving major disaster declarations to address flooding in the Midwest and wildfires in California, among other events. Former US President Bill Clinton in 2000 used a Stafford Act emergency declaration to address outbreaks of the West Nile virus.

"To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency," Trump said. "Two very big words. The action I am taking will open up access to up to $50 billion – a very important and a large amount for states and territories or localities in our shared fight against this disease."

EN NW GRAB KETHEVANE FROM 6H FOR 7H

Trump said the federal government was partnering with the private sector to accelerate production of test kits to make them more widely available to Americans.

He said there will be about 5 million coronavirus tests available but doubted that many will be needed. He urged Americans to only seek out the test if they feel they need it.

"We don't want people to take a test if we feel that they shouldn't be doing it and we don't want everyone running out and taking – only if you have certain symptoms," he said.

Alongside Trump was Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health expert who is on Trump's coronavirus task force.

"We still have a long way to go. There will be many more cases. But we'll take care of that," said Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert. "What's going on here today is going to help it end sooner than it would have."

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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