President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to help handle the growing outbreak of COVID-19.
The move allows the federal government to tap up to $50 billion in emergency relief funds.
It loosens regulations on the provision of healthcare and could speed up testing – the slow pace of which has been criticized widely.
There are 1,701 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US, and 41 deaths.
Several states have taken measures to stem the infections rate, including banning large gatherings, sporting events and closing schools.
The new coronavirus originated in China last December, but Europe is now the “epicenter” of the global pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on March 13, as several European countries reported steep rises in infections and deaths.
Italy has recorded its highest daily toll yet – 250 over the past 24 hours, taking the total to 1,266, with 17,660 infections overall.
The Trump administration has come under recent scrutiny over its failure to provide Americans with widespread coronavirus testing.
The decision on the state of emergency was announced by President Trump in a live address from the White House Rose Garden.
The “next eight weeks are critical,” President Trump said.
What are the measures envisaged as part of the emergency response?
The US Health Secretary Alex Azar and health officials can waive certain laws and license requirements, giving more flexibility to healthcare providers.
Hospitals have been asked to activate their emergency preparedness plans.
Up to 500,000 additional coronavirus tests will be available by early next week, though authorities are not recommending tests without clear need; private labs and vaccine developers will be able to provide five million coronavirus tests within the month, though authorities are not recommending tests for those without symptoms.
Interest on all student loans is to be waived until further notice as a measure to ease the burden for students as universities and colleges across the country shut their doors.
Democrats in Congress and heavily-affected states had been urging President Trump to issue the order, which will also allow more people to qualify for government health insurance.
Urged again to explain why he hasn’t taken a coronavirus test following reports that he has been in the company of people who have tested positive recently, President Trump said he had no symptoms and there was no need for a test. But he added that he was likely to have one “fairly soon”, anyway.
President Trump’s travel ban on 26 European countries, which was met with anger and confusion this week, will go into effect on March 13 at midnight EDT.
The 1988 Stafford Act gives the president alone the ability to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to co-ordinate a national response to “natural catastrophes” within the US.
There are currently more than 30 national emergencies in effect.
President Trump has declared several national emergencies in his presidency, including one last year to redirect military funds to build a southern border wall to prevent illegal immigration.