Thursday morning news – March 19, 2020

Trump announces emergency powers » President Trump on Wednesday invoked new emergency powers amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

TRUMP: We will be invoking the Defense Product Act, just in case we need it. I think you all know what it is, and it can do a lot of good things if we need it. 

The law dates back to 1950, during the Korean War. It gives the president authority to compel industries to expand production and turn out vital materials.

The move gives the administration new powers to potentially overcome shortages of face masks, ventilators, and other supplies as healthcare workers prepare for an onslaught of cases.

And speaking at the White House, the president announced more relief measures. 

TRUMP: The Department of Housing and Urban Development is providing immediate relief to renters and homeowners by suspending all foreclosures and evictions until the end of April. 

He also said his administration is expanding the nation’s testing capacity. And the military is deploying a Navy hospital ship to New York City, which is rapidly becoming an epicenter of the pandemic. Another hospital ship will dock somewhere on the West Coast.

U.S. Rep. Diaz-Balart tests positive for COVID-19 » Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart announced Wednesday that he has contracted the coronavirus. The 58-year-old Republican lawmaker is the first member of Congress to test positive for COVID-19. 

But shortly thereafter, 45-year-old Democratic Congressman Ben McAdams of Utah announced that he has also tested positive. 

Both lawmakers said they are self-quarantining, and urged all Americans to follow CDC guidance to stay safe and avoid spreading the virus. 

Canada, U.S. closing border to non-essential traffic » The United States and Canada agreed Wednesday to temporarily close their shared border to nonessential travel. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement. 

TRUDEAU: Travelers will no longer be permitted to cross the border for recreation and tourism. In both our countries, we’re encouraging people to stay home. We’re telling our citizens to not visit their neighbors if they don’t absolutely have to. 

However, trade and other traffic across the border deemed essential will continue. 

President Trump said Wednesday that his administration is also prepared to immediately return to Mexico all people caught illegally crossing the southern border.

Automakers, retailers shutting down » Major automakers are ceasing operations at U.S. plants. WORLD’s Leigh Jones reports. 

LEIGH JONES, REPORTER: Ford and General Motors said they will shut down all of their factories in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Fiat Chrysler will reportedly do the same.

The shutdowns would idle about 150,000 workers, who are likely to receive supplemental pay in addition to unemployment benefits.

And America’s largest operator of shopping malls is locking the doors at its retail centers nationwide. Simon Property Group began closing its malls last night. That comes after numerous retailers announced they’re temporarily shutting down. Those include Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom, The Gap, and Apple Stores. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leigh Jones. 

Senate passes House aid package, continues work on additional aid » President Trump signed a roughly $100 billion coronavirus aid package into law on Wednesday. He signed it just hours after the Senate approved the bill on a vote of 90-to-8. The House passed the bipartisan package last week.   

Democratic Senator Chris Coons said the bill will do several things to help Americans affected by the coronavirus. It provides free testing, emergency food supplies, and… 

COONS: Paid emergency leave for workers at companies below 500 employees for two weeks of sick leave, and up to 10 weeks of additional paid family and medical leave. 

But that places an expensive burden on small businesses when most are receiving less or no income at all. With that in mind, senators say they’re working to get cash in the hands of individuals and small businesses quickly. 

Senator Marco Rubio chairs the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee. On Wednesday, he said plans now on the table would provide federally guaranteed loans to many small businesses designed to help cover critical expenses for about six weeks. And he said those loans would be forgiven, essentially becoming grants as long as funds are used to maintain payroll and keep the lights on. Rubio said the measure will contain safeguards against fraud and abuse…

RUBIO: But listen, the overwhelming majority of the people who are going to seek these out are going to use it for purposes of paying their employees and keep their rent or their lease or mortgage up to date so they don’t get evicted, because if we don’t do that, it’s going to spread into the real estate market as well. 

The estimated price tag of that loan program is $300 billion. It would be part of what senators are calling “phase 3” of the coronavirus relief package at a cost of up to a trillion dollars. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to keep the Senate in session until that bill is passed. 

Chinese health official: Japanese anti-flu drug effective in treating coronavirus » A top health official in China says a Japanese drug used to treat new strains of the flu looks to be effective in treating COVID-19 patients. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin reports. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: Zhang Zinmin is the director of the National Center for Biotechnology Development. In a news conference, he said officials are encouraged by the results of two clinical trials with the Japanese-made anti-flu drug Avigan. 

He said trials showed patients taking Avigan tested negative for the coronavirus after a median of four days—compared to a median of 11 days without it. 

Researchers also reportedly found that the drug improved lung conditions for most patients. 

Zinmin said the drug is safe, and he is formally recommending it to treat patients with the coronavirus. 

A Chinese firm got government approval last month to begin mass-producing the medicine. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin. 

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon) President Donald Trump listens as others speak about the coronavirus in the Cabinet Room of the White House during a meeting with representatives of American nurses, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Washington.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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