U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency over the fast spreading coronavirus to free up $50 billion in federal aid and said he would “most likely” be tested for the virus himself soon after facing possible exposure.
Mr. Trump made the announcement at a Rose Garden news conference as he battled to show Americans he is aggressively addressing the health crisis after facing criticism that he was slow to react and played down the threat until the number of cases rose.
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Mr. Trump cautioned that Americans will have to make sacrifices and change their daily practices, a stark difference from two weeks ago when he said people should use common sense but otherwise not change their routines.
“It could get worse. The next eight weeks will be critical,” he said.
The president appeared on stage with members of his coronavirus task force and business executives after meeting them inside the White House over how to accelerate testing of Americans for the virus to better track the contagion’s spread.
Shaking hands freely with the gathered business executives, the 73-year-old Mr. Trump later acknowledged he expected to be tested for the virus. He had come into contact with a Brazilian official last Saturday who later tested positive for coronavirus.
“Most likely, yeah, most likely. Not for that reason but because I think I will do it anyway,” Mr. Trump said. “Fairly soon. We’re working out a schedule.”
“We have no symptoms whatsoever,” he said to a question about whether he should get a test.
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Mr. Trump said Walmart Inc Chief Executive Doug McMillon had agreed to set up drive-thru testing at store parking lots across the country and that Alphabet Inc’s Google will create a website to help determine whether individuals need a coronavirus test.
Mr. Trump shrugged off a question about whether he was responsible for what many experts have said was slow progress toward expansion of tests to track the virus.
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“I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said, blaming rules and regulations he inherited for the inability to mass produce the testing kits.
Mr. Trump said his declaration of a national emergency will ”unleash the full power of the federal government” to help states and territories in the fight.
US House passes coronavirus bill funding free tests, sick leave
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a coronavirus aid package early on Saturday that would provide free testing and paid sick leave, in a bid to limit the economic damage from a pandemic that has shuttered schools, sports arenas and offices.
By a bipartisan vote of 363 to 40, the Democratic-controlled House passed a multi-billion dollar effort that would expand safety-net programs to help those who could be thrown out of work in the weeks to come.
President Donald Trump said he supported the package, raising the likelihood that it will pass the Republican-controlled Senate next week.
The 110-page bill is the product of extensive negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump’s point person on the issue. Mnuchin has pressed for tax cuts, while Pelosi had pushed to expand safety-net spending. It does not include the $1 trillion payroll tax cut that Trump had called for.
The bill would provide two weeks of paid sick and family leave for those affected by the virus. Businesses would get a tax credit to help cover the expense.
Workers would also be able to take up to three months of unpaid leave if they are quarantined or need to take care of sick family members.
It would expand safety-net programs that help people weather economic downturns, including home-bound seniors and low-income schoolchildren who risk losing access to free breakfast and lunch if their schools are shuttered.
It would bolster unemployment aid, and the “food stamps” program that helps 34 million low-income people buy groceries.
Significantly, it would suspend a new Trump administration restriction, due to kick in on April 1, that would cut off food-stamp benefits for 700,000 childless adults who are not working.
Federal support for Medicaid would also be increased, giving states a cushion to fund the low-income health insurance program that Trump has repeatedly tried to scale back.