Trump declares a national emergency, ‘two very big words.’
President Trump on Friday afternoon officially declared a national emergency that he said would give states and territories access to up to $50 billion in federal funds to combat the spreading coronavirus epidemic.
He also gave broad new authority to the health secretary, Alex Azar, who he said would now be able to waive regulations, giving doctors and hospitals more flexibility to respond to the virus, including making it easier to treat people remotely.
Cases in the U.S. have climbed to almost 2,000, even with sparse testing, and the death toll has risen to 41. The United States is facing the prospect that those numbers could grow exponentially, as they did in China, Italy, South Korea and other countries.
Mr. Trump said hospitals would now be able to “do as they want. They could do what they have to do.”
“I am officially declaring a national emergency, two very big words,” he said.
“I’m urging every state to set up emergency operations centers effective immediately,” he added.
Mr. Trump said he was waiving interest on student loans, and that with oil prices low, the government would buy large quantities of crude oil for the nation’s strategic reserve.
His comments marked the first time he has addressed the coronavirus as a problem within the country’s borders, not just something that needed to be kept out with travel restrictions.
Mr. Trump, who has been accused of downplaying the crisis, detailed the administration’s efforts to speed testing, which was announced earlier on Friday. He said that millions of virus testing kits would become available, but added that he did not think so many would be needed.
“We don’t want everybody taking this test,” he said. “It’s totally unnecessary.”
“This will pass, this will pass through, and we will be even stronger for it,” the president said.
The House moves toward a vote on a sweeping relief bill, but its prospects are unclear.
House Democrats barreled toward on a vote on Friday on a sweeping relief package to assist people affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but after days of intensive negotiations, it remained unclear whether Mr. Trump would agree to it.
Ms. Pelosi announced the House would go forward with its scheduled vote on the bill, but before she spoke, another senior Democratic leader said there was still no agreement with the White House.
Ms. Pelosi’s move effectively dares House Republicans to oppose the Democratic package — which includes a sweeping new paid sick leave program, enhanced unemployment benefits, free virus testing, and additional funds for food assistance and Medicaid — and risk being blamed for holding up needed aid.
Republicans have derided the proposal as expensive and ineffective overreach, and in particular object to providing paid sick leave to people who stay home from work during the outbreak, as many public health officials have advised.
In a rare formal statement delivered from the Speaker’s balcony on Capitol Hill, Ms. Pelosi called the bill “a well-funded, evidence-based investment in public health.”
Since Democrats first introduced the legislation, an intense round of talks has unfolded between Ms. Pelosi and Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, as financial markets swung wildly amid uncertainty about the rapidly spreading virus.
The two traded phone calls throughout the day on Friday to try to cement a deal. In a letter to colleagues, Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat, said the past 48 hours had been “frustrating,” and that Ms. Pelosi “has literally been working around the clock to achieve a bipartisan agreement.”
Mr. Hoyer said those efforts continued, but a vote would be held whether or not there was a compromise.
Wall Street rebounds during Trump’s address.
Stocks rallied on Friday, rebounding from their worst day in more than 30 years after Mr. Trump said leaders of private U.S. companies had agreed to help with efforts to test for the coronavirus and declared a national emergency that would free billions in funding for states and territories.
The S&P 500 rose more than 9 percent on Friday, with most of the gains coming as government officials and business executives spoke at a news conference at the White House.
Mr. Trump said the administration was working with Google to develop a website to determine whether an individual needs a test — a move aimed at avoiding overwhelming the health system with people who are ill but do not necessarily need to be tested for coronavirus.
The chief executives of Walmart, Target and Walgreens all said they had agreed to make facilities available for testing.
Financial markets have been nothing if not inconsistent for the past three weeks, plunging and then rising, and then plunging again, as each day brought new measures to contain the outbreak and new worries that the economy, workers and businesses would take a hit as a result of them.
After missteps, the Trump administration refocuses on testing.
The Trump administration moved on Friday to drastically speed up coronavirus testing, rushing to catch up with surging demand for tests.
The government gave the Swiss health care giant Roche emergency permission to sell its three-and-a-half hour test to U.S. labs, and said it was awarding over a million dollars to two companies to accelerate development of one-hour tests.
Testing has lagged in the country, infuriating the public, local leaders and members of Congress. Sick people across the country say they are being denied tests. Administration officials have promised repeatedly that enormous numbers of tests would soon be available, only to have the reality fall far short.
“I don’t take responsibility at all,” President Trump said in response to a reporter’s question on Friday, “because we were given a set of circumstances and we were given rules regulations and specifications from a different time.”
While South Korea is testing 10,000 people a day, overall U.S. state and federal testing has yet to log even 15,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi highlighted the urgency on Friday, while discussing an emergency spending package she said the House would pass later in the day, saying, “The three most important parts of this bill are testing, testing, testing.”
The Department of Health and Human Services on Friday assigned an assistant secretary, Adm. Brett P. Giroir, to oversee testing efforts. A day earlier, in a congressional hearing, top health officials were unable to say who was in charge of making sure that people who needed tests got them.
One of them, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, finally responded: “The system does not, is not really geared to what we need right now, what you are asking for. That is a failing. It is a failing, let’s admit it.”
“The idea of anybody getting it, easily, the way people in other countries are doing it, we are not set up for that,” Dr. Fauci added. “Do I think we should be? Yes. But we are not.”
World leaders are affected as the virus causes political and social disruption worldwide.
A top adviser to Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive days after he, Mr. Bolsonaro and other Brazilian officials met with Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago, raising fears that both presidents might have been exposed. Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami, who also met the Brazilian delegation, said on Friday that he tested positive.
The Australian minister for home affairs, Peter Dutton, tested positive on Friday, days after meeting with Attorney General William P. Barr and Ivanka Trump.
In Iran, the virus has felled members of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s inner circle.
The reach of the virus into the world’s highest political reaches is a stark reminder — if one is needed — that the pathogen knows no boundaries.
The White House said on Thursday that Mr. Trump had no need to be tested. But when reporters asked him on Friday if he would be tested, he said, “most likely, yeah,” though not because of his contact with the Brazilian official.
“I think I will do it anyway. Fairly soon,” he said.
Mr. Bolsonaro said on Friday that he had tested negative, though people in the early stages of infection often do. Mr. Barr stayed home on Friday as a precautionary measure, but was not tested, a spokeswoman said.
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, said on Friday he would extend his self-quarantine to March 17 after learning he had come into contact with a second individual who has tested positive, though he still had no symptoms. Two other Republican senators, Rick Scott of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have also preemptively isolated themselves after exposure to others.
The epidemic also touched on the lives of ordinary people who are, for the most part, still in good health, as an avalanche of cancellations and closings gathered speed.
“My guess is there are thousands and thousands of cases walking around the state of New York,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Friday, underscoring that the official count of 421 cases, even as it inches up, is not representative of total spread of the virus in the state.
Nearly every sport has been affected; the Boston Marathon and the Masters golf tournament were called off on Friday.
Spain declares a state of emergency and orders its first mandatory lockdowns.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain said on Friday that the country would be placed under a state of emergency for 15 days, which could allow his government to restrict the movement of citizens, ration goods and impose other measures to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.
The decision came as Spain’s caseload rose to about 4,200 cases, the most in Europe after Italy’s more than 17,600. The Spanish death toll reached 120 on Friday.
European caseloads overall jumped to more than 35,000 on Friday, nearly double the number three days earlier. France’s case count rose by 800, reaching more than 3,600. Germany’s rose by a similar number to more than 3,100.
Earlier Friday, Spain ordered its first mandatory lockdowns, of four towns in Catalonia, with about 70,000 people.
In a brief televised address, Mr. Sánchez said that the state of emergency would come into force on Saturday, after a ministerial meeting, and that it was designed to use “all the resources of the state to protect better the citizens, especially those who are most vulnerable to the virus.”
Mr. Sánchez said that Spain and other European countries were “only in the first phase of the fight against the virus.” He warned that Spain could reach 10,000 cases in coming weeks.
But Mr. Sánchez did not specify what kinds of measure would be imposed under a state of emergency. “We will take weeks,” he said. “It will be very hard and difficult, but we will overcome the virus, that’s certain.” The government has already closed museums and sports centers, and students nationwide were sent home from school this week.
The coronavirus has spread at an alarming rate in Spain over the past week, with the Madrid region becoming the center of the health crisis and two of Mr. Sánchez’s ministers testing positive for the virus.
Under the Spanish Constitution, the government can maintain a nationwide state of emergency for 15 days. The law also allows the government to requisition factories and other infrastructure. Parliament must approve an extension.
The only other time that Spain declared a state of emergency was in 2010, when the government ordered the military to break up a wildcat strike by air traffic controllers that brought to air traffic to a standstill.
Gyms, apartment buildings and offices: How to manage the outbreak.
Today, we look at how the places you interact with daily are ensuring they stay safe while still being able to function, including how gyms should be disinfecting their equipment, new guidance for building managers, and how needed changes may affect workers.
American officials are considering escalating containment measures.
In Washington State, where more than 30 people have died from the virus, more than anywhere else in the country, public health officials have escalated through most of a 13-step strategy checklist for controlling infectious outbreaks and now have only a few remaining options: closing workplaces, restricting people to their homes and cordoning off targeted areas to help control the spread of infection, measures that have already been put in place in other parts of the world.
Political leaders are considering their options, alarmed over research that suggests 400 people in the Seattle area could die in the coming weeks if the trajectory of the outbreak cannot be altered. The research shows that if policymakers could reduce the transmission rate by 75 percent — primarily through what is known as “social distancing” — then the number of deaths could be reduced to only about 30 in that period.
One official said that none of the options were off the table, but that officials were mindful of the tremendous burden that such restrictions could impose on families and businesses.
Los Angeles schools will be closed starting Monday, affecting hundreds of thousands of students.
The Los Angeles and San Diego school districts said they were canceling school beginning on Monday in response to the coronavirus outbreak, affecting more than 750,000 students in Southern California.
The Los Angeles public school district is the second-largest in the United States, with 670,000 students. The decision is the latest in a slew of similar moves across the country affecting more than six million students.
All public schools, and many if not all private schools, in Virginia, Oregon, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, Kentucky and New Mexico were told to close beginning next week, and the governor of Washington State ordered all schools shut in three counties near Seattle. The Houston Independent School District, the largest school district in Texas, also said it was closing for two weeks.
The closings could have a severe effect on parents who will need to find child care, and on the many students who depend on the cafeteria for food and the school for shelter. In Los Angeles, about 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches, and just under 20,000 are homeless at some point during the school year. The district is also the second-largest employer in California’s largest county.
In New York City, which has the country’s largest school district, with 1.1 million students — including about 114,000 who are homeless — officials have said closing its schools would be a last resort.
Iran’s military is called on to fight one of the world’s worst outbreaks.
Iran’s supreme leader has ordered the military to take charge of fighting the coronavirus epidemic, citing what he called the possibility that the scourge was a “biological attack” and the potential need for “biological defense.”
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s written order on Thursday called on the armed forces to create a military base for health care and preventive measures to stop the spread of the disease in Iran, which has one of the world’s worst outbreaks.
Satellite photos appear to show the digging of mass graves in Qom, the holy city where the outbreak began.
President Hassan Rouhani’s government has struggled to contain the spread and has been heavily criticized for its management of the crisis, which has been cloaked in secrecy. The mobilization of the military by Mr. Khamenei, who commands the armed forces, amounts to an admission that the response has been inadequate.
Iran’s government reported on Thursday that the new virus had infected 10,750 people and killed 429. But a tally of deaths reported by local governors and health officials in 30 provinces places the number of fatalities closer to 800 people, according to a report by BBC Persian.
At least 30 officials, including vice presidents, cabinet ministers and Parliament members, have been infected, including members of Mr. Khamenei’s inner circle. The supreme leader’s chief foreign policy adviser and his chief accountant have both tested positive, Iranian state media have reported.
Iran’s economy, already strained under U.S. economic sanctions, has taken a further hit from the epidemic. Iran has asked the International Monetary Fund for a $5 billion emergency loan — the first time since 1962 that Iran has sought such assistance.
Louisiana will postpone its April 4 primary, becoming the first state to do so.
Louisiana will postpone its April 4th primary election for two months, becoming the first state in the nation to adjust its elections in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Today I have certified that a state of emergency exists and requested that the governor issue an executive order postponing the elections this spring,” the secretary of state, R. Kyle Ardoin, said at a news conference. He referenced the state’s decision to postpone elections after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as precedent.
Concern for public health, and particularly the health of poll workers whom Mr. Ardoin noted are mostly senior citizens, led officials to decide on postponing the primary.
The presidential primary will now be held on June 20, and municipal elections until July 25.
A Chinese official promotes a conspiracy theory that the U.S. introduced the virus to China.
China is pushing a new theory about the origins of the coronavirus: It is an American disease that might have been introduced by members of the United States Army who visited Wuhan in October.
There is not a shred of evidence to support that, but the notion received an official endorsement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose spokesman accused American officials of not coming clean about what they know about the disease.
China, under diplomatic pressure for the early missteps in handling the outbreak, has sought to deflect attention from those failings at home and abroad and now turned to a well-worn practice of blaming internal problems on foreign actors.
“The conspiracy theories are a new, low front in what they clearly perceive as a global competition over the narrative of this crisis,” Julian B. Gewirtz, a scholar at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard, said of the Chinese.
In the United States, a number of politicians and media personalities have promoted comparably preposterous conspiracy theories.
Speaking on Fox News, Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, raised the possibility that the virus was manufactured by the Chinese government in a high-security biochemical lab in Wuhan. Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist and Rush Limbaugh, a conservative radio talk show host, have also pushed this theory, which has been dismissed by scientists.
China said on Friday there had been eight new officially confirmed infections from the virus in the past 24 hours, and seven deaths from it. It was its lowest official tally since the country imposed emergency measures in January.
Italy’s health care system is overwhelmed. It’s a warning to the world.
The mayor of one town complained that doctors were forced to decide not to treat the very old, leaving them to die. In another town, patients with coronavirus-caused pneumonia were being sent home.
In less than three weeks, the coronavirus has overloaded the heath care system all over northern Italy. It has turned the hard hit Lombardy region into a grim glimpse of what awaits countries if they cannot slow the spread of the virus and “flatten the curve” of new cases — allowing the sick to be treated without swamping the capacity of hospitals.
On Friday, Italy again raised its caseload by more than 2,000, to 17,660, and tallied the dead at 1,266, and increase of 250.
If not, even hospitals in developed countries with the world’s best health care risk becoming triage wards, forcing ordinary doctors and nurses to make extraordinary decisions about who may live and who may die. Wealthy northern Italy is facing a version of that nightmare already.
“This is a war,” said Massimo Puoti, the head of infectious medicine at the Niguarda hospital in Milan, one of the largest in Lombardy.
This week Italy put in place draconian measures — restricting movement and closing all stores except for pharmacies, groceries and other essential services. But they did not come in time to prevent the surge of cases.
Reporting was contributed by Ian Austen, Ernesto Londoño, Melissa Eddy, Aurelien Breeden, Constant Méheut, Elisabetta Povoledo, Ivan Nechepurenko, Davey Alba, Raphael Minder, Steven Erlanger, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Steven Lee Myers, Andrew Higgins, Damien Cave, Farah Stockman, Hannah Beech, Heather Murphy, Gillian Wong, Jorge Arangure, Bhadra Sharma, Emily Cochrane, Jeanna Smialek, Jim Tankersley, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Nick Corasaniti, Mike Baker, Miriam Jordan, Jason Horowitz, Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, Annie Karni, Katie Benner, Sarah Mervosh, Patricia Mazzei, Neil Vigdor and Rick Gladstone.