Donald Trump invokes wartime powers to fight ‘enemy’ coronavirus

United States

The US is invoking a wartime law to step up production of desperately needed medical equipment to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

Key points:

  • The law allows the President to order factories to make more ventilators, masks and other medical equipment
  • Mr Trump said an estimate that America’s unemployment rate could hit 20 per cent was a “total worst-case scenario”
  • The US-Mexico border will not close, but will be stringently monitored

Scrambling to address the virus after initially playing it down as markets continued to tumble, President Donald Trump said he was invoking the Defence Production Act.

It puts in place a law that will allow the US Government to speed up the production of masks, respirators, ventilators and other needed equipment.

“We’re going to defeat the invisible enemy,” said Mr Trump, who said the unfolding crisis had basically made him a “wartime President.”

But as fears of the virus’s economic impact mounted, Mr Trump described an estimate that America’s unemployment rate could reach 20 per cent as a worst-case scenario.

Mr Trump said he would invoke another law that would allow authorities to turn back migrants seeking to cross the southern border of the US illegally.

The border would not be closed, he added.


The US has seen a spike in coronavirus infections this week, with all 50 states now reporting cases. (AP: Mary Altaffer)

“No, we’re not going to close it, but we are invoking a certain provision that will allow us great latitude as to what we do,” he said.

Mr Trump has made stemming the flow of migrants across the border with Mexico a central pillar of his presidency and has poured billions of dollars into building a border wall that is far from completed.

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Immigrant rights groups have slammed the idea of mass returns of foreign nationals to Mexico.

Trump defends calling COVID-19 ‘the Chinese virus’

On Wednesday, Mr Trump defended his description of COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus”, despite concerns among some Americans that he was making an ethnic slur.

“It’s not racist, not at all. It comes from China,” Mr Trump said of the illness, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

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But the term has angered Chinese officials and a wide range of critics, and China experts said labelling the virus that way could increase tensions between the two countries.

“Shifting the blame to China will not help combat the epidemic in the US,” China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson GENG Shuang said at a press briefing on Thursday.

“The US should get its domestic issues handled first.”

Mr Trump said a hospital ship would be sent to hard-hit New York to help people affected by the contagion, and that a second hospital ship would be deployed on the west coast.

The Defence Production Act, which dates back to the Korean War of the 1950s, grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the US industrial base”.

This allows support for military, energy, space, and homeland security programs, according to a summary on the Federal Emergency Management Agency website.

“We will be invoking the Defence Production Act just in case we need it,” said Mr Trump.

20 per cent unemployment ‘worst-case’ scenario

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin fanned fears of economic collapse on Wednesday by telling politicians on Capitol Hill that 20 per cent unemployment was an extreme possibility should the virus have devastating effects on American businesses, many of which are already under duress.

“That’s an absolute total worst-case scenario,” said Mr Trump.

“We’re nowhere near it.”

US Vice-President Mike Pence, head of the coronavirus task force, urged all Americans to put off elective surgery to allow hospitals to concentrate on the rising influx of patients with the COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by the new virus.

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Deborah Birx, a member of the task force, urged young people to adhere to government guidelines, calling for a 15-day effort to slow the spread of the virus.

Young people are considered key transmitters of the virus, which can be passed along even with mild or no symptoms.

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(ABC News)