Trump taps emergency powers as virus relief plan proceeds

(AP) - President Donald Trump has invoked rarely used emergency powers to marshal critical medical supplies against the coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump updates on the coronavirus government actions Wednesday at the White House. He's flanked by, from left, Seema Verma and Vice President Mike Pence.(Source: CNN)

Trump has also signed an aid package, approved earlier Wednesday by the Senate, that will guarantee sick leave to workers who fall ill.

Trump’s authority under the 70-year-old Defense Production Act gives the government more power to steer production by private companies and try to overcome shortages in masks, ventilators and other supplies.

The Canada-U.S. border, the world’s longest, was effectively closed, save for commerce and essential travel. Meanwhile, the administration is pushing its plan to send relief checks to millions of Americans.
On a day of head-spinning developments, stocks tumbled again on Wall Street.

This comes as the Treasury Department wants to start issuing direct payments to Americans by early next month as the centerpiece of a $1 trillion plan to stabilize the economy as the coronavirus epidemic takes a toll on taxpayers and businesses.

In a memorandum issued Wednesday, Treasury is calling for two $250 billion cash infusions to individuals: A first set of checks issued starting April 6, with a second wave in mid-May.

The amounts would depend on income and family size. The Treasury plan, which requires approval by Congress, also recommends $50 billion to stabilize the airlines, $150 billion to issue loan guarantees to other struggling sectors, and $300 billion to for small businesses.

Trump announced Wednesday at a White House briefing he’s invoking the Defense Production Act to produce vitally needed goods to fight the virus.

He said he would sign the act “in case we need it" as the government bolsters resources for an expected surge in cases of the virus.

More than two dozen Senate Democrats have been urging Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase production of needed masks, ventilators and respirators. Use of the law will also help expand hospital capacity to combat the coronavirus.

Trump announced at a White House briefing Wednesday that he will sign the papers to invoke the act later in the day.

FEMA is activated at level 1,"the highest level," Trump said. Ships Mercy and Comfort, hospital ships that respond to natural disasters, are also going to be sent in response to the crisis “depending on need,” Trump said.

The U.S. has had 116 virus-related deaths and over 7,300 infections.

The coronavirus task force recommends that people adhere to social distancing guidelines and delay elective surgeries as the national healthcare system is tested by a coronavirus surge.

Trump says the U.S. and Canada have agreed to close the border to “non-essential traffic,” and says trade won’t be affected.

Both countries are eager to choke off the spread of the virus but also eager to continue the critical economic relationship. Canada relies on the U.S. for 75 percent of its exports. Truck drivers are among those expected to get an exemption.

Completely closing the border would cause severe economic damage to both the U.S. and Canada.

Governments are grappling with how to implement border closures, travel restrictions and lockdowns that have caused transportation chaos and imperiled economies, but which authorities say are needed to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest move: Alabama is postponing its March 31 Republican runoff for U.S. Senate between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville until July 14 to slow the spread of coronavirus.

European Union leaders agreed to shut down the bloc’s external borders for 30 days. In Asia, the causeway between Malaysia and the Southeast Asian financial hub of Singapore was eerily quiet after Malaysia shut its borders, while the Philippines backed down on an order giving foreigners 72 hours to leave from a large part of its main island.

2 members of Congress test positive for virus

Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Utah Rep. Ben McAdams have become the first known members of Congress to test positive for the new coronavirus.

Diaz-Balart, a Republican, entered self-quarantine in Washington Friday, according to a statement. He said he decided not to return to South Florida because his wife has a pre-existing medical condition. Diaz-Balart developed symptoms, including a fever and headache, on Saturday. He learned Wednesday that he had tested postive for the COVID-19 virus.

“I want everyone to know that I am feeling much better,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement Wednesday. “However, it is important that everyone take this extremely seriously and follow CDC guidelines in order to avoid getting sick and mitigate the spread of this virus. We must continue to work together to emerge stronger as a country during these trying times.”

McAdams, a Democrat, announced his diagnosis Wednesday on Twitter. He said he developed symptoms Saturday and went into isolation. He soon had a fever, dry cough and labored breathing.

“I am still working for Utahns and pursuing efforts to get Utahns the resources they need as I continue doing my job from home until I know it is safe to end my self-quarantine,” said McAdams in a statement.

Other members of Congress, including Florida Sen. Rick Scott, have self-quarantined, but none have reported positive test results. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez tested positive for the virus last week.

Washington state death toll at 65, highest in US

Washington state health officials reported 11 new deaths from the new coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the state tally of fatalities to 65 —- the highest in the the U.S.

Ten of the deaths were in King County and most were associated with the Life Care Center, a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington.

To date, 35 of the state’s death were linked to that facility.

Clark County also reported a death Wednesday –- the county’s third.

With the coronavirus spreading at an alarming rate, California is preparing to deal with worst-case scenarios that could overwhelm hospitals and drain the state’s spending reserves.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that he is putting the California National Guard on alert for duties such as ensuring food distribution. Newsom also says the state is negotiating with about 900 hotels to acquire tens of thousands of rooms that could be used for hospital patients and for the homeless.

With many school districts closing classrooms, the governor says it’s likely “few if any” schools will reopen before summer break.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has also closed all K-12 schools through the end of the semester, moving instruction online.

New York City residents should be prepared for the possibility of a shelter-in-place order within days, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

De Blasio said no decision had been made yet, but he wants city and state officials to make a decision within 48 hours, given the fast spread of the coronavirus.

Officials in six San Francisco Bay-area counties issued a “shelter-in-place” order that went into effect Tuesday, requiring nearly 7 million residents to stay inside and venture out only for food, medicine or exercise for three weeks.

Wuhan reports no new cases of virus infection

China's health ministry says the virus epicenter of Wuhan and its surrounding Hubei province have reported no new cases.

The ministry said Thursday that results over the past 24 hours showed 34 new cases, all detected in people arriving from abroad.

Eight new deaths were reported, all in Wuhan.

Wuhan at the peak reported thousands of new cases of coronavirus infection daily, overwhelming its health care system.

Of those new cases of infection, 21 were in Beijing, nine in the southern manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong, two in Shanghai and one each in coastal Zhejiang and Heilongjing in the far northeast.

China has only just begun loosening draconian travel restrictions within the country, but has stepped-up 14-day quarantine regulations on those arriving in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere from overseas, amid expectations of a new influx of students and others returning home.

China has now recorded a total of 80,928 confirmed virus cases with 3,245 deaths. Another 70,420 people have been released from hospital and 7,263 remain in treatment.

US State Department halts routine visa services

The U.S. State Department says it is halting visa issuance at its embassies and consulates around the world due to the global coronavirus outbreak.

The announcement Wednesday came as several lawmakers sought explanations from the department about difficulties some of their constituents overseas are having in getting assistance from embassies and consulates.

The department said in a notice that it was temporarily suspending “routine visa services” for non-U.S. citizens at its overseas diplomatic missions “in most countries.” “Routine visa services will resume as soon as possible but we are unable to provide a specific date at this time,” it said.

The department did not provide a list of affected countries but said visa applicants should check with individual embassies to check on their status.

Movie theaters request stimulus from Congress due to virus

Faced with a lengthy shutdown due the coronavirus pandemic, movie theaters are requesting relief from the U.S. government.

The National Assocation of Theater Owners, the trade group that represents most of the industry’s cinemas, said Wednesday that it’s asking for immediate relief measures for its chains and its 150,000 employees.

The theaters are requesting loan guarantees for exhibitors, tax benefits for employees and funds to compensate for lost ticket sales and concessions.

NATO said the movie theater industry is “uniquely vulnerable” to the crisis.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved. Gray Media Group, Inc., contributed to this report.