By Jeff Mason and Stephanie Nebehay
WASHINGTON/GENEVA (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the quickly spreading coronavirus on Friday, opening the door to more federal aid to combat a disease that has infected over 138,000 people worldwide and left more than 5,000 dead.
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The impact of the coronavirus on everyday life deepened around the world, and it was detected for the first time in several more countries. More schools and businesses closed to try to slow its spread, governments took other drastic steps, the global sporting calendar was left in tatters and people faced greater restrictions on where they could go.
"To unleash the full power of the federal government to this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency – two very big words," Trump said in remarks at the White House, adding that the U.S. situation could worsen and "the next eight weeks are critical."
Trump had faced criticism from some experts for being slow and ineffective in his response to the crisis and playing down the threat. The latest steps came two days after Trump announced travel restrictions blocking U.S. entry for most people from continental Europe. While he exempted Britain at the time, on Friday he said that might change because U.K. infections have "gone up fairly precipitously."
Trump, who previously was pictured standing near a visiting Brazilian official who has tested positive for the virus, said he himself would be tested "fairly soon." But did not plan to isolate, noting he was suffering no symptoms.
Trump said the federal government was partnering with the private sector to accelerate production of test kits to make them more widely available to Americans in an effort to track the virus’ spread.
But he said, "I don’t take any responsibility at all" for the lack of needed testing capacity early on in the outbreak, instead blaming previous government policies. The U.S. coronavirus death toll reached 46 on Friday after six more deaths were reported in Washington state.
The final global economic cost remains unknown, but travel bans have hammered airlines and travel companies, while financial markets have been hit by panic selling.
The three major U.S. stock indexes rallied more than 9% on Friday, rebounding from Wall Street’s biggest daily drop since 1987 after Trump declared the national emergency.
Despite a limited recovery on Friday, the main U.S. stock indexes faced their biggest weekly declines since the 2008 financial crisis, and remain around 25% below the record highs achieved in mid-February.
The World Health Organization (WHO) called Europe the epicenter of a coronavirus pandemic after the number of cases in China, where it originated, slowed to a trickle. The WHO called the death toll reaching 5,000 globally "a tragic milestone."
The WHO’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan said social distancing was a "tried and tested method" to slow the spread of a virus but "not a panacea" that would stop transmission.
"Blanket travel measures in their own right will do nothing to protect an individual state," Ryan said.
More cultural landmarks were shuttered to try to stop the spread of the virus. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre museum and the Moulin Rouge cabaret closed their doors. The Smithsonian museums in Washington were preparing to do so on Saturday and Broadway theaters in New York went dark.
The kissing of the Blarney Stone, one of Ireland’s oldest tourist traditions, was suspended.
Central banks worldwide acted to shore up money markets after cratering share prices drove a rush for cash, hitting many regional currencies and threatening a surge in short-term borrowing costs.
In China, which bore the brunt of the economic fallout from the coronavirus in the first few months of 2020, authorities late on Friday cut banks’ reserve requirements for the second time this year.
Japan’s central bank pledged to buy 200 billion yen ($1.90 billion) of five- to 10-year Japanese government bonds and also inject an additional 1.5 trillion yen in two-week loans.
The European Union said it would establish a 37 billion euro investment initiative as part of a package of measures to cushion the bloc’s economies from the impact of the coronavirus.
In Italy, which after China has been hardest hit by the respiratory illness, the death toll jumped by 250 to 1,266 in the last 24 hours, authorities said. The total number of cases also rose to 17,660 from a previous 15,113, despite draconian measures to restrict the movement of people.
In the northern region of Lombardy, at the heart of Italy’s coronavirus epidemic, authorities asked for even stricter steps.
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In hard-hit Iran, security forces will empty the streets in cities across the country in a drive to fight the virus’ spread, state television reported.
The virus continued its persistent march across the globe. Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Guinea all confirmed their first cases, giving the disease a foothold in 18 countries on the African continent. Venezuela and Kazakhstan also confirmed their first cases.
In Washington, the State Department summoned the Chinese ambassador to protest comments by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman saying the American military might have brought the coronavirus to the city of Wuhan, ground zero of the outbreak.
World leaders, sports stars and actors were among the tens of thousands of people hit by the virus. Golf’s crown jewel, The Masters, and England’s top-flight soccer league joined the long list of elite sporting events to be canceled or postponed.
Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and the French Ligue 1 are all on hold and Germany’s Bundesliga followed suit on Friday.
But sport’s biggest showpiece, the Olympics, will proceed as planned, according to Tokyo organizers. In Greece, home of the ancient Olympics, the nation’s Olympic Committee canceled the remainder of the Olympic Torch relay through the country.
Reporting by Tom Westbrook and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Mily Chow and Wang Jing in Beijing, Daniel Leussink and Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo, Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Wayne Cole, Colin Packham and Jonathan Barrett in Sydney, Rama Venkat in Bengaluru, Khanh Vu and Phuong Nguyen in Hanoi, Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Writing by Will Dunham, Lincoln Feast and Mike Collett-White; Editing by Stephen Coates, Pravin Char and Bill Berkrot