Donald Trump has boasted of a vaccine to treat the coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases in the US reaches 11,000, saying health officials will "fast-track" treatments. But the Federal Drug Administration said the vaccine was still an estimated "12 months" out as the agency assures that that its product is both "safe and effective".
He told CNN: “I want their medical teams, which are first rate, I want their logistical support, I want their ability to get stuff from factories all over the country where they’re needed most."
As the pandemic spreads, the US markets are taking a significant hit, with the Dow Jones dropping below 20,000 points and unemployment rates escalating.
The president was “too bad” the contagion has spread “because we never had an economy as good as the economy we had ... but we’ll be back”.
Meanwhile, the US State Department has warned against all travel outside the country as the president prodded at reporters at his White House coronavirus briefing and its new social-distancing-friendly seating arrangement, once again prompting critics to demand that health officials deliver those crucial updates.
He said: "We should probably get rid of about, another 75-80 per cent of you .... I'll have just two or three that I like in this room."
The president pointed to one reporter and told them: "You should leave immediately."
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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration as it attempts to lead the US response to the coronavirus epidemic.
Trump signs coronavirus aid package with paid sick leave and free testing
Donald Trump has signed the bipartisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act into law after it was passed by both chambers of Congress, the emergency aid package making provisions for paid sick leaving and free testing as the pandemic intensifies.
The measure is expected to be followed soon by a massive economic stimulus package that members of both parties and White House officials are still negotiating, with floor votes perhaps as soon as this week. The second measure passed the upper chamber easily, 90-8.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell had urged his Republican colleagues, many of whom had issues with the House-passed bill, to move at "warp speed" to pass it, even if they had to "gag" and vote in favour. After a brief delay to give Senator Rand Paul, McConnell's fellow Kentucky Republican, a vote on an amendment that was almost unanimously squashed, the chamber finally sent it to Trump's desk.
House Democrats initially pushed for 12 full weeks of paid leave for workers with coronavirus, symptoms of the bug, or who are caring for others who are sick. White House officials and Republican lawmakers, however, blanched, with business groups sounding alarms. The final version grants such workers 12 days of paid leave; health experts say most working-age adults will recover from the virus within two weeks.
John T Bennett has the full story.
President hails himself 'wartime president', ramps up medical supply production
Describing himself as a "wartime president" fighting an invisible enemy, Trump invoked a rarely used emergency powers to marshal critical medical supplies against the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday.
The president tapped his authority under the 70-year-old Defense Production Act to give the government more power to steer production by private companies and try to overcome shortages in masks, ventilators and other supplies.
Yet he seemed to minimise the urgency of the decision, later tweeting that he "only signed the Defense Production Act to combat the Chinese Virus should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future."
"Hopefully there will be no need," he added, "but we are all in this TOGETHER!"
The mixed messaging came as Trump took a series of other extraordinary steps to steady the nation, its day-to-day life suddenly and fundamentally altered.
The Canada-US border, the world's longest, was effectively closed, save for commerce and essential travel, while the administration pushed its plan to send relief checks to millions of Americans.
Trump said he will expand the nation's diagnostic testing capacity and deploy a Navy hospital ship to New York City, which is rapidly becoming an epicenter of the pandemic, and another such ship to the West Coast. And the Housing and Urban Development Department will suspend foreclosures and evictions through April to help the growing number of Americans who face losing jobs and missing rent and mortgage payments.
But as Trump laid out efforts to help the economy, markets plummeted. Gone were nearly all the gains that the Dow Jones Industrial Average had made since Trump took office.
The administration announcements came on a fast-moving day of developments across the capital, its empty streets standing in contrast to the whirlwind of activity inside the grand spaces of the White House and the Capitol as the Senate shunted through the aforementioned Families First bill.
Meanwhile the administration pushed forward its broad economic rescue plan, which proposes $500bn (£432bn) in cheques to millions of Americans, with the first to be delivered on 6 April if Congress approves.
The White House urged hospitals to cancel all elective surgeries to reduce the risk of being overwhelmed by cases. The president was pressed on why a number of celebrities, like professional basketball players, seemed to have easier access to diagnostic tests than ordinary citizens.
"Perhaps that's the story of life," Trump said. "I've heard that happens on occasion."
Trump dismissed a suggestion from his own treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, that the nation could face 20 per cent unemployment at least in the short term. That's an "absolute total worst case scenario," Trump said. "We're no way near it."
The government has told Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 people and the elderly to stay home while a pointed reminder was given to millennials to follow the guidelines and avoid social gatherings. Trump likened the effort to the measures taken during World War II and said it would require national "sacrifice."
"It's a war," he said. "I view it as a, in a sense, a wartime president. It's a very tough situation."
No longer able to run for re-election on a healthy economy, he was taking on the mantle of a wartime leader after played down the severity of the crisis for weeks.
The president also employed more nativist, us-vs-them rhetoric at the briefing, continuing his recent habit of referring to the coronavirus as the "Chinese virus," which has been sharply criticised as racist. "It's not racist at all," Trump said. "It comes from China, that's all."
He was asked about a report that a White House aide had referred to the virus as the "Kung flu" when talking to an Asian-American reporter and Trump did not signal disapproval of the offensive term.
Trump later met nursing leaders and expressed "gratitude for those on the front lines in our war against the global pandemic" as he held out hope that the pandemic would be over soon.
"It's been something, but we're winning and we will win," he said. "It's a question of when and I think it's going to go quickly. We hope it's going to go quickly."
A limited number of people gathered around a large table, their chairs spread apart in a display of social distancing.
The Defense Production Act gives the president broad authority to shape the domestic industrial base so that it is capable of providing essential materials and goods needed in a national security crisis. The law allows the president to require businesses and corporations to give priority to and accept contracts for required materials and services.
The executive order issued by Trump gives Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar the authority to determine "the proper nationwide priorities and allocation of all health and medical resources, including controlling the distribution of such materials... in the civilian market, for responding to the spread of COVID-19 within the United States." It also applies to certain health services.
Trump also said he would soon invoke a rarely used federal statute that would enable the US to tighten controls along the southwest border because of the new coronavirus, based on a recommendation of the US surgeon general.
The president said the law, intended to halt the spread of communicable diseases, would give authorities "great latitude" to help control the outbreak.
First two congressmen test positive for virus
Florida Republican Marco Diaz-Balart and Utah Democrat Ben McAdams become the first two members of the House to test positive for the virus on Wednesday, as the US total climbs to 8,898 confirmed cases and 149 deaths.
The news about the former was enough to send fellow GOP congressman Steve Scalise into hiding.
Lucy Gray has this on Diaz-Balart.
Number of cases in New York double as mayor asks Trump to call in military
In New York alone, the number of cases doubled overnight to almost 2,000, prompting mayor Bill de Blasio to call on the president to mobilise the US military.
“I want their medical teams, which are first rate, I want their logistical support, I want their ability to get stuff from factories all over the country where they're needed most,” he told Anderson Cooper on CNN.
“The only force in America that can do it effectively and quickly is the United States military, and they are being sidelined right now by Donald Trump when he should be calling them to the front. This is the front right now.”
De Blasio said the military should also be dispatched to Seattle and California, where hospitals are likewise already feeling the strain of the current crisis on resources and equipment.
“We’re deeply concerned about where we're going to be in a few weeks, and there's the problem: the federal government is absent in this discussion right now,” de Blasio said.
“President Trump at this point is the Herbert Hoover of his generation. There's a massive national crisis going on and he is consistently late and very marginal in what he does. He's taking actions that are far, far behind the curve and aren’t addressing the core concerns.”
The mayor also warned his city's 8.6m residents that a lockdown is likely, as it appears to be here in London.
Lou Dobbs ridiculed on Fox for 'North Korea levels' of sycophancy
After initially insisting the coronavirus was a "hoax" being pushed by the Democrats to bring down Trump by tanking the economy in an election year, Fox News has rather changed its tune in recent days, as the stunning video below from The Washington Post illustrates.
But some things never change, one of which is Lou Dobbs, a personal friend of the president whom he likes to give economic pointers to.
In his show last night and again on Twitter, Dobbs invited viewers to grade Trump's response to the crisis, giving them the options of "Superb", "Great" or merely "Very Good".
For this, he was rightly ridiculed within an inch of his life.
'You're not out of danger', Dr Fauci warns young people as defiant spring breakers raise alarm in Florida
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases had a new warning for the youth of America yesterday, seeking to dispel the idea that only the elderly or those with pre-existing medical conditions are vulnerable to the coronavirus: "You yourself could be in harm's way."
"You have a responsibility - a societal responsibility - to protect the vulnerable," Dr Anthony Fauci added. "You do that, interestingly, by not letting yourself get infected because you need to make sure that you don’t inadvertently pass on the infection to someone who would not fare as well as you fared because you’re young and healthy."
Dr Fauci was speaking as footage of high school graduates descending on Florida for Spring Break hit the news, with many claiming they were determined to press on with partying as the state's Republican governor Ron DeSantis has still not closed its beaches, despite widespread criticism.
Here's more from Andrew Naughtie.
California prepared to enact martial law if its a 'necessity', governor says
The state is prepared for worst case scenarios as the coronavirus pandemic heightens, including the possibility of enacting martial law, governor Newsom has said.
“We have the ability to do martial law... if we feel the necessity,” he told the press while appealing for calm.
Danielle Zoellner has more.
Bernie Sanders snaps at reporter: 'I’m dealing with a f***ing global crisis'
The Vermont senator is currently considering whether or not to continue with his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for president after Joe Biden further extended his delegate lead on Tuesday.
But, like the rest of us, Bernie has more pressing personal concerns to contend with right now and blew up at CNN reporter Manu Raju for asking him about his intentions going forward.
Ordinarily, profanity would be chalked up as a major gaffe on the campaign trail but, right now, his frustration feels highly relatable.
Trump's market gains since he took office nearly entirely erased by Covid-19 crash
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed on Wednesday down sharply again, nearly erasing three years of gains under Donald Trump's watch that the president loudly boasted about just one month ago.
The Dow was down 1,333 points after a late rally capped another day of aggressive selling off amid the coronavirus outbreak as The Johns Hopkins University put the number of US cases at 7,323 and deaths at 55. It plummeted over 200 points around midday as the president and his public health team briefed reporters at the White House, another black eye for Trump even as his public messaging and policy moves responding to the virus get more serious.
Here's John T Bennett with more.
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