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As Trump declares state of emergency, European states go on war footing

While the aggressive spread of the virus in Europe, North America and the Middle East has dashed any hopes for quick containment, dozens of countries have imposed increasingly severe measures over the past couple days — shutting borders, expanding testing, closing school for tens of millions of children and ordering tens of thousands of businesses to close their doors — to try to face down the disease.

The US emergency decree will open up $50 billion for state and local governments to respond to the outbreak, said Trump, who also gave the secretary of health and human services emergency powers to waive federal regulations to give doctors and hospitals “flexibility” in treating patients.

As the US struggles to slow the spread of the virus, the governors of six states — Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, New York, Rhode Island and Washington – sought National Guard troops.

In Europe, stocks clawed back some of their losses with promises of financial support from the European Commission, France and Germany, while in the US, stocks surged after Trump’s announcement. The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped nearly 2,000 points — its biggest point gain ever — after historic losses earlier in the week.

At the same time, new infections in Italy soared by more than 2,500 and virus-related deaths made their biggest single-day jump there, increasing by 250. In the three weeks since the country identified its first virus cluster, Italy has reached a total of 17,600 confirmed cases, with 1,266 deaths. The government has ordered an unprecedented lockdown, ordering businesses to close and restricting movement.

“Europe has now become the epicenter of the pandemic,” said World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic.”

New infections also rose sharply in Spain, and the government put 60,000 people in four towns on a mandatory lockdown Friday that echoed Italy’s. In Madrid, which is struggling with nearly 2,000 infections, many in nursing homes, the government was pooling intensive care units and considering offers by hotel chains to transform rooms into sick wards.

In just 24 hours, the numbers of confirmed cases spiked ominously in some places: France saw an additional 800 cases to reach more than 3,600 by Friday; Britain went from 590 to 798 and New York state jumped 30 percent, hitting 421. In Africa, where experts warn that containment is key because of the continent’s already-strained health care systems, six new countries confirmed infections.

The spread of the virus in Europe, North America and the Middle East has drawn contrasts with waning outbreaks in the hardest-hit nations in Asia. China, where the virus emerged late last year, still accounts for more than 60% of global infections but reported just eight new cases Friday and seven deaths.

In South Korea, which has had more than 8,000 cases overall, Friday marked the first day that recoveries outnumbered new infections. It reported another 107 cases Saturday.

In the US, hospitals were setting up circus-like triage tents, calling doctors out of retirement, guarding their supplies of face masks and making plans to cancel elective and non-emergency surgeries as they brace for an expected onslaught of coronavirus patients in the coming weeks.

Trump, who on Thursday ordered a 30-day travel ban for most foreign visitors coming to the US from continental Europe, dismissed criticism that his administration has faced for the slow rollout of testing in the US, saying “I don’t take responsibility at all” for the problem.

The public-private partnership that Trump announced at the White House will include drive-thru testing in some areas — something already being done in South Korea and Germany — and an online portal to screen those seeking to get tested.

New travel restrictions sprang up practically by the hour on Friday: Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Portugal, the Czech Republic — all started barring entry to Europeans considered at risk. Ukraine announced it would halt all passenger air traffic, Poland said anyone entering the country will be put under a 14-day quarantine, while the Czech Republic and Slovakia have stopped almost all movement in and out of their countries. The European Union urged member countries to put health screening procedures in place at their borders.

Canada and Denmark joined the US in advising citizens to avoid trips abroad, and Americans in Europe caught increasingly rare trans-Atlantic flights back home.

Header: A medical worker wearing a protective suit assists students to an ambulance in Minsk, Belarus, March 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)