Coronavirus Live Updates: Trump to Declare National Emergency and Louisiana Will Delay Primary

President Trump is expected to declare a national emergency on Friday afternoon, a move that would give him authority to use $40 billion allocated by Congress for disaster relief to address the coronavirus crisis.

Cases in the U.S. have climbed past 1,700, even with sporadic and spare testing, and the death toll has risen to 41.

Mr. Trump, according to a senior administration official, is expected to invoke the Stafford Act, a law that empowers the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster response and aid state and local governments.

The president had indicated in recent days that he had been briefed on the law and could use it to address the pandemic, and Democratic lawmakers like Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, have been pressing him to invoke it.

“We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday. “I have it memorized, practically, as to the powers in that act. And if I need to do something, I’ll do it. I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.”

The details of Mr. Trump’s announcement, another official cautioned, were in flux and being finalized ahead of a 3 p.m. news conference that Mr. Trump announced on Twitter Friday morning.

Louisiana will postpone its upcoming primary election for two months, becoming the first state in the nation to adjust its elections in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The secretary of state, R. Kyle Ardoin, made the announcement at a news conference on Friday afternoon. His press secretary, Tyler Brey, confirmed that the secretary had “statutory authority to say that there’s an emergency in the state and request an executive order that would postpone the election.”

Louisiana was scheduled to hold its presidential primary elections on April 4. The next four states scheduled to vote in the primary — Ohio, Arizona, Florida and Illinois — have all indicated that they intend to hold their elections on time, on March 17, though they have instituted safeguards.

The Trump administration moved on Friday to drastically speed up coronavirus testing, rushing to catch up with overwhelming demand for tests as cases rise and some hospitals began to be stretched thin by surges in patients.

The F.D.A. gave the Swiss health care giant Roche emergency permission to sell its three-and-a-half hour test to U.S. labs, and the Department of Health and Human Services said it was awarding over a million dollars to two companies, DiaSorin Molecular and Qiagen, to speed the 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.

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.

The C.D.C. reports that it has run a total of 3,903 tests and that public health labs in 48 states, New York City and seven California counties have run 9,721.

The F.D.A. also made drastic changes to the team overseeing the distribution of tests, installing an assistant secretary, Adm. Brett P. Giroir, to oversee the efforts. The move was another indication of tension among top health officials.

On Thursday, under persistent questioning about exactly who was in charge of seeing that people who needed tests got them, top health officials were unable to provide a name. 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.”

China, which appears to have made progress managing the outbreak that set off the pandemic, is now trying to become a resource for other nations.

On Friday, two foundations connected to Jack Ma, who created Alibaba, China’s largest online retailer, said they would donate 500,000 testing kits and one million masks to the United States. “Drawing from my own country’s experience, speedy and accurate testing and adequate personal protective equipment for medical professionals are most effective in preventing the spread of the virus,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Ma said that the two foundations had, in recent weeks, also donated similar resources to Japan, Korea, Italy, Iran and Spain.

Stocks rallied briefly on Friday, after their worst day in more than 30 years, but the gains quickly faded amid continuing fears of a downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Governments in Washington and beyond continued their recent pattern of moves to bolster economic confidence, but it was not enough to calm investors’ nerves. The S&P 500 index gained 5 percent in early trading, but was up only about 1 percent at midday.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said on Friday that it would complete half of its planned $80 billion of government bond purchases for the month today, trying to inject liquidity into markets.

Major European indexes soared as much as 10 percent early in the day, but then gave up nearly all their gains. Oil prices also jumped and then fell again.

Financial markets have dropped repeatedly in recent weeks, occasionally rallying before plunging again in the face of more coronavirus news.

On Thursday, stocks on Wall Street and in Europe plunged in their biggest daily drop since the stock market crashed in 1987, as President Trump’s ban on entry from most European countries to the United States disappointed investors who had been waiting for Washington to take stronger steps to bolster the economy.

A fundamental divide over how many Americans should be paid to stay home from work amid the coronavirus outbreak has emerged as a snag in negotiations over a multi-billion-dollar federal response to the mounting health and economic damage from the virus.

House Democrats are planning to vote today on a bill, negotiated with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, that includes several measures meant to combat the spread of the virus and cushion its shock to the economy. One of those is a plan to provide paid leave to workers affected by the virus, ensuring compensation for people who do not go to work during the outbreak.

But Republicans are objecting to the program as overly broad, concerned that it could encourage healthy people to stay home — a measure that many public health officials have recommended — and thus chilling economic activity. Instead, Republicans want to confine the help to workers who have contracted the virus or must care for sick family members or children whose schools have closed.

Democrats argue the measure should go further, and protect workers from being forced to expose themselves to the virus.

“No worker should have to choose between putting themselves at risk of contracting coronavirus and being to pay their bills and support their families,” Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, said in a news release this week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada is self-isolating after his wife tested positive, and Canada’s Parliament went into recess.

A top adviser to Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive days after he, Mr. Bolsonaro and other Brazilian officials met with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago, raising fears that not one but two 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 limits and that no corner of daily life is immune.

Mr. Bolsonaro said on Friday that he had tested negative, though people in the early stages of infection often do. The White House said Mr. Trump had no need to be tested.

Mr. Barr stayed home on Friday as a precautionary measure. The C.D.C. is not recommending that he be tested at this point, according to Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department. “The A.G. is feeling great and not showing any symptoms,” Ms. Kupec 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 for the new coronavirus.

He was planning to re-emerge on Thursday, he said, when he learned that a Spanish politician he had spent time with earlier this month had also contracted the virus. He still had no symptoms, he said.

He could miss votes in the Senate next week on an emergency relief package meant to help boost testing and provide financial relief for Americans fighting it. 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.

In the United States, Broadway has gone dark and Disney parks are shutting their doors for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In Paris, the Louvre has closed until further notice.

Nearly every sport has been affected, including soccer, with the English Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga the latest to announce suspension of play. The Boston Marathon and the Masters golf tournament were also called off. Even Mount Everest was closed to climbers on Friday.

If the coronavirus outbreak grows even more dire in the United States, officials may need to turn to government measures even more disruptive than the event prohibitions and school closures announced this week.

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.

Kevin Wickersham, the incident commander at Washington’s Department of Health, 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.

“We want to do everything possible to keep society functioning as much as it possibly can,” Mr. Wickersham said.

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 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.

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 reported about 4,200 confirmed infections, the most in Europe after Italy. The Spanish death toll reached 120 on Friday.

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.

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.

Germany is making a package of economic assistance worth more than $600 billion available to help companies in Europe’s largest economy survive the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s economy minister, Peter Altmaier, said on Friday.

“There will be no upper limits for the amount of credit” from the government-owned lender KfW Bankengruppe, Mr. Altmaier said. “This is the time for working together.”

As new infections have risen across the Continent, and daily life has ground to a halt in many places, businesses have been left reeling.

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.

Broadway started going dark for at least a month beginning Thursday, after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced restrictions on public gatherings in an extraordinary step to fight the growing outbreak of the coronavirus.

The governor’s decision to limit gatherings of more than 500 people was a blow to the theater industry, a crown jewel of New York City’s tourist trade. Last season, the industry drew 14.8 million patrons and grossed $1.8 billion.

All 41 Broadway theaters have at least 500 seats, and most have more than 1,000.

At a later news conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency for New York City, which empowers him to take expedited measures to control the outbreak; he could, for example, implement a curfew, limit traffic to emergency vehicles or suspend certain laws.

Mr. de Blasio said that New Yorkers should prepare themselves for restrictions that could last as long as six months.

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, President 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.

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, Patricia Mazzei, Neil Vigdor, Jason Horowitz, Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, Annie Karni, Katie Benner and Rick Gladstone.

Source link