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Trump preparing to invoke emergency powers over coronavirus

Senior Democrats and the Trump administration are labouring to finish a coronavirus aid package.

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Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump is preparing to invoke emergency powers as the US struggles to contain the coronavirus outbreak, according to sources.

It is unclear what mechanism the president will use to free up additional resources for testing and treatment as well as help those struggling with the economic impact.

The move comes as House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Trump administration are labouring to finish a coronavirus aid package that would fast-track federal aid to anxious Americans and calm teetering financial markets amid the global crisis.

Central to the effort is free testing for the virus and guaranteed sick pay for workers who are taking time away from jobs, along with an infusion of dollars to handle unemployment benefits and boost food programmes for children, families and the elderly.

Ms Pelosi and treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated a deal was within reach after days of around-the-clock negotiations.

Republican leaders in Congress want to be sure that Mr Trump publicly supports the package before they sign off on it ahead of any vote, according to a top congressional aide .

Providing sick pay for workers is a crucial element of federal efforts to stop the rapid spread of the infection. Officials warn that the nation’s healthcare system could quickly become overwhelmed with gravely sick patients, as suddenly happened in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.

The potential deal between Congress and the White House would cap a tumultuous week in which Washington strained for a comprehensive response to an outbreak that is testing the nation’s political, financial and health care systems.

Mr Trump has struggled to show he is on top of the crisis after giving conflicting descriptions of what the US was doing to combat the virus. Classes, sports events, concerts and conferences have been cancelled across the nation, and the financial markets have been cratering.

In one welcome announcement, the administration said on Friday that it was awarding 1.3 million dollars to two companies trying to develop rapid Covid-19 tests that could detect within an hour whether a person is positive for the new coronavirus.

Disruptions from the virus spread throughout the Washington metropolitan area, as the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court all declared themselves off limits to the public, symbols of a nation hunkering down.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Mr Trump said he will halt his signature campaign rallies, telling reporters he needs a “little separation until such time as this goes away”.

Democratic presidential rivals Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders said they would no longer hold large political gatherings and their staff would work from home as the race for the presidency moved online.

The coronavirus crisis also got personal for Mr Trump and some members of Congress.

Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton is in isolation in hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus. He returned to Australia on Sunday from Washington, where he met attorney general William Barr and Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka.

PA