Describing himself as a “wartime President”, Donald Trump has announced that he is invoking emergency powers which will allow private sector capacity to be used in responding to the coronavirus pandemic which has already killed more than 130 people in the US.
Trump said he is invoking the Defense Production Act “in case we need it” as the country braces for a sharp spike in COVID-19 caseload.
With these emergency powers, the Trump administration can pull on the country’s installed industrial base to swiftly produce materials needed in a national crisis.
Briefing reporters at the White House Wednesday, Trump said America’s battle against the “Chinese virus” is “like a war”.
“It’s a very tough situation”, Trump said on a day of chilling economic impact when Detroit’s big three automakers – Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler – all decided to shut down their factories over coronavirus fears. With that one blow alone, more than 150,000 workers will be put out of work.
Trump also said he is sending a Navy hospital ship to New York City, which has the largest cluster of cases in the US.
The US government has also decided to “suspend foreclosures and evictions” through April as the looming threat of large scale unemployment threatens millions of Americans.
Earlier the same day, Trump and Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced closing the US-Canada border, the longest in the world, for everything except for the bare essential personnel and trade.
Bracing for the coming economic bloodbath, the Trump administration is pushing forward a $500 billion economic relief plan which proposes direct cash payments to Americans within two weeks, pending Congress approval. If the plan is approved, the first cheques are expected to drop by April 6.
On Wednesday, the White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx cautioned that the number of people diagnosed is likely to increase dramatically in the next few days as testing capacity ramps up.
It is now nearly 60 days since the first US case surfaced and testing at scale remains an issue across the country till date.
Birx today underlined a relatively new theme in what we know about the virus – its transmission from hard surfaces. “We’re still working out how much is by human to human transmission and how much from surfaces”, she said.
“We’ve not seen significant mortality in children”, she said.
“Don’t expose yourself to surfaces outside the home”, Birx urged Americans.
All week, the White House task force has been calling on “younger” Americans, especially millennials, to follow the latest social distancing guidelines and stop congregating in groups.