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Aides in Donald Trump’s administration have had preliminary talks about calling a national emergency, which would allow disaster-level action to be taken by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Washington Post reported.
It came after Mr Trump issued a flurry of tweets in an attempt to downplay the significance of coronavirus.
In one of more than a dozen posts on Monday, he said: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year.
“Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”
A senior administration official told the Post that Mr Trump had been hesitant to “tell anyone they can’t go anywhere” or to “shut down an industry”.
However, he previewed some emergency measures to consolidate the economy on Monday, as global markets continued to struggle amid slumping oil prices.
The president later told reporters that he favoured a payroll tax cut and other policies to offer relief to workers, describing them as “very dramatic”.
It is not clear how Capitol Hill will view these proposals, with Democrats and some Republicans criticising the president for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Larry Hogan, the Republican Maryland governor, questioned Mr Trump’s approach, saying: “He at times just says whatever comes to mind, or tweets, then someone on TV is saying the opposite. It’s critically important that the message is straightforward and fact based for the public.”
Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator, told the Post: “In many ways this was the moment we feared. A true security threat to the nation and a president who can’t tell the truth, who can’t organise a consistent response and doesn’t have enough experienced people on the job.”
The president has sought to play down fears of widespread coronavirus infections, previously insisting that it had been “stopped” because “we have been very strong at the borders”.