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Trump Uses Presidential Powers, Forces GM to Make Ventilators

A view of empty Bourbon Street in the French Quarter amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on March 27, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
A view of empty Bourbon Street in the French Quarter amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on March 27, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill Friday to bolster the economy while he also used government powers to compel General Motors to manufacture ventilators to help COVID-19 patients as the United States became the first country in the world to surpass 100,000 coronavirus cases.

Trump said Friday he used his power under the Defense Production Act to require GM to “accept, perform and prioritize” federal government contracts to make ventilators.

“GM was wasting time. Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives,” Trump said in a statement.

He made the announcement shortly before signing into law the $2.2 trillion stimulus package after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation earlier in the day to blunt the economic effects of the coronavirus that has battered the economy.

The United States is now regarded as the epicenter of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, which originated in China.

By Friday evening, the U.S. had 101,657 confirmed coronavirus cases, compared with 81,897 in China, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Italy, the epicenter of the virus in Europe, had 86,498 confirmed cases. More than 1,500 Americans have died from COVID-19.

During debate on the stimulus bill in the House Friday, lawmakers sat a distance apart from each other in the House chamber to comply with health safety advice as they debated before a voice vote, a quick way to approve legislation.

The bill, which was previously approved by the Senate on a 96-0 vote, is the biggest fiscal relief package ever considered by Congress. It authorizes direct payments to U.S. citizens within three weeks of becoming law.

New York City, the hardest-hit U.S. city and the country’s largest city, had 44,876 cases and 527 deaths as of Friday evening, according to Johns Hopkins. New York officials said the number of cases is growing by at least 3,000 a day.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams warned Americans on Friday that they could expect cases to surge in other U.S. cities.

“We also see hot spots like Detroit, like Chicago, like New Orleans, will have a worse week next week,” Adams said on CBS This Morning.

Adams’ warning comes as U.S. states and cities continue to scramble in response to the outbreak. A survey published Friday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that 90 percent of mayors who responded said they don’t have adequate supplies of protective equipment and other essential items, such as face masks for health care workers and emergency responders.

Earlier Friday, Trump said he had “a very good conversation” with Chinese President Xi Jinping amid heightened tensions between the two leaders that was triggered by the outbreak in China. But Trump tweeted, “China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!”

The tweet was in sharp contrast to Trump’s previous disparaging remarks about how the Asian nation handled the outbreak and to his repeated description of the virus as the “Chinese virus.”

In Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive Friday for COVID-19, Downing Street said in a statement.

In a video on Twitter, Johnson said he has “a temperature and a persistent cough” and that the symptoms were “mild.” He also said he is “working from home” and is “self-isolating” and added it was “entirely the right thing to do.”

The White House said Trump spoke by phone with Johnson Friday and “wished him a speedy recovery.”

Other leaders across the globe have also tested positive for COVID-19, including political leaders in Italy, Spain, Australia and Iran.

In their first-ever remote vote, EU Parliament members approved a $41 billion package of economic aid to members whose economies have also taken a beating because of the outbreak.

Italy reported its largest one-day death toll Friday, announcing 919 deaths. Spain has also been particularly hard-hit, with more than 64,000 cases and more than 4,900 deaths.

France announced Friday that it was extending its national lockdown until at least April 15.

The coronavirus has claimed nearly 27,000 lives globally, according to Johns Hopkins, which also reported nearly 592,000 cases worldwide.

The cruise ship company, Holland America, said Friday that four people have died and another 138 are sick on a ship currently near the Panama Canal but stuck in limbo during the coronavirus pandemic.

The company said in a statement Friday that two people aboard the Zaandam ship have tested positive for the coronavirus, while the other sick passengers have complained of flulike symptoms. The company did not say what caused the deaths of the four passengers.

China is temporarily closing its borders to all foreign visitors. Nearly all the new coronavirus cases in the past week in China have come from people arriving from overseas.

The outbreak appears to have eased in China, and authorities don’t want a resurgence.

South Africa and the Saudi cities of Riyadh, Medina and Mecca — the last are two of Islam's holiest cities — are the latest to go under lockdown.

The Associated Press reports U.N. ambassadors from eight countries under United States sanctions — China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela — are asking Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to press the U.S. to lift the sanctions so they can effectively fight the outbreak. The ambassadors accused the U.S. of politicizing the pandemic.