US President Donald Trump talks to the media in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Reuters
US President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency as the World Health Organisation named Europe the new epicenter of the coronavirus, with countries sealing borders, shutting schools and cancelling events in a frenzied attempt to slow the ballooning pandemic.
President Trump on Friday declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, freeing up money and resources to fight the outbreak, and then threw his support behind an aid package in Congress that is on track to provide direct relief to Americans.
From the Rose Garden, Trump said, "I am officially declaring a national emergency," unleashing as much as $50 billion for state and local governments to respond to the crisis.
Wall Street stocks rallied Friday as financial markets endured a rollercoaster ride after a week of spectacular losses triggered by fears that the deadly outbreak will lead to a global recession.
"To unleash the full power of the federal government, I'm officially declaring a national emergency," Trump said, announcing $50 billion in federal funds to battle the contagion.
The measure came as infections and deaths soared in Europe, with WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying the continent now had "more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China."
He described it as a "tragic milestone", and warned it was impossible to say when the virus would peak globally.
The overall death toll jumped to more than 5,000, including nearly 1,500 in Europe, with total infections topping 140,000 internationally, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.
Italy, Spain as well as Iran — which have emerged as virus hotspots — all clocked a dramatic rise in cases and fatalities in the past 24 hours, while infections were reported in Kenya and Ethiopia, the first in east Africa.
Venezuela declared a "state of alert" after confirming its first two cases, and Colombia closed its border with Venezuela and restricted the entry of foreigners who have been to Europe and Asia in the last 14 days.
Governments have been pushing through tough restrictions to contain the spread of the disease and unveiling big-bang emergency funding plans to try to limit the economic damage.
Trump said the US would buy large quantities of crude oil for strategic reserves and waived student loan interest during the crisis, stressing that the "next eight weeks were critical."
The US House of Representatives early Saturday overwhelmingly passed a virus relief package for Americans hit by the outbreak.
Leaders of the G7, the world's richest economies, will hold an extraordinary summit via videoconference on Monday to discuss the pandemic.
The virus has torn up the sporting and cultural calendar, with top-flight events from Broadway to English Premier League football scrapped.
The outbreak reached new heights with several public figures from Hollywood actors to politicians and even the Canadian first lady catching the infection.
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President Donald Trump’s decision to halt funding to the World Health Organisation has sown confusion within his administration, as staff members argue over what the decision means and whether some programmes that the agency oversees should be protected from the cut.
The COVID-19 pandemic has entered a new phase with the Omicron variant, which could infect 60 percent of people in Europe by March, and could bring it to an end, the WHO Europe director said on Sunday.
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