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Coronavirus: Trump to invoke emergency powers to marshal medical supplies amid pandemic

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Confronting twin health and economic crises, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday he will invoke emergency powers to marshal critical medical supplies against a coronavirus pandemic threatening to overwhelm hospitals and other treatment centres.

The Senate acted on the economic front, approving legislation to guarantee sick leave to workers sickened by the disease.

Trump described himself as a “wartime president” as virus cases surged and the markets fell, and he took a series of extraordinary steps to steady a battered nation, its day-to-day life fundamentally altered.

Most immediately, Trump said he would employ the Defence Production Act as needed, giving the government more power to steer production by private companies and try to overcome shortages in masks, ventilators and other supplies.

Trump also said he will expand the nation’s testing capacity and deploy a Navy hospital ship to New York City, which is rapidly becoming an epicentre of the pandemic, and another such ship to the West Coast.

The Housing and Urban Development Department will suspend foreclosures and evictions through April. A growing number of Americans face losing jobs and missing rent and mortgage payments.

But as Trump laid out efforts to steady the economy, the markets plummeted. Gone were the last of the gains that the Dow Jones Industrial Average had made since Trump took office.

Administration announcements came on a fast-moving day of developments across the nation’s capitol, its empty streets standing in contrast to the whirlwind of activity inside the grand spaces of the White House and the Capitol.

The Senate overwhelming passed a second coronavirus response bill, sending it to Trump to enact with his signature.

The vote was a lopsided 90-8 despite worries by many Republicans about a temporary new employer mandate to provide sick leave to workers who get COVID-19. The measure is also aimed at making diagnostic tests for the virus free.

Meanwhile the administration pushed forward its broad economic rescue plan, which proposes $500 billion in checks to millions of Americans, with the first checks to come April 6 if Congress approves the plan.

Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jointly announced that the U.S.-Canada border would be closed, except for essential personnel and for trade. The virus is afflicting people in both countries.

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