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Here’s What Can Happen if U.S. Declares Novel Coronavirus a National Emergency

The emergency measures raise constitutional questions

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Last year, Trump was criticized for declaring a national emergency in order to divert military funds to finance construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Pixabay

With the World Health Organization classifying the global coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, U.S. President Donald Trump announced late Wednesday a series of emergency measures, including an unprecedented 30-day suspension of all flights from Europe.

But Trump, who spoke from the Oval Office, stopped short of resorting to an even more dramatic measure urged by some members of Congress: a national emergency proclamation under the 1976 National Emergencies Act.

The administration already has declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency, giving local health officials greater flexibility to respond to the crisis.  A national emergency declaration would put a vast reservoir of additional powers at the president’s disposal by triggering sweeping authorities contained in more than 100 statutes, according to Elizabeth Goitein, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security Program.

“When a president declares an emergency declaration, he at that moment has access to all of the laws that say in a national emergency the president can do X, whether or not those powers relate to the emergency at hand,” Goitein said.

Some of the additional authorities allow for a “reasonable and very measured” response to an emergency, according to Goitein. For example, hospitals could receive regulatory waivers in order to set up off-site facilities.

At the same time, a national emergency declaration also empowers a president to take draconian measures in the name of national security. For example, a president could invoke a 1941 law to shut down the internet and even freeze people’s bank accounts.

Last year, Trump was criticized for declaring a national emergency in order to divert military funds to finance construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

A national emergency declaration can only be overturned by an act of Congress.   More than 30 national emergency declarations made over the past four decades remain in effect.

Although presidents often have a legitimate need to exercise emergency powers, they’ve also faced criticism for using emergencies to curtail civil liberties and civil rights.

History of Mational Emergencies 

During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln famously suspended the writ of habeas corpus, a guarantee against unlawful detentions. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt put more than 100,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps. And after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush expanded the government’s surveillance and other national security powers, some of which were later rolled back by Congress.

“The question will be in this moment, how far does the president go or the Congress go, and what is the fallout in the pushback,” said Kimberly Wehle, a visiting law professor at the American University Washington College of Law. “These are areas where the law isn’t clear.”

In addition to exercising emergency powers, the president has certain nonemergency powers he has used during the coronavirus crisis. For example, Trump invoked the Immigration and Nationality Act 1952 in suspending travel from Europe. Another non-emergency power Trump has exercised: the federal quarantine authority, which was last used in 1963.

“The president doesn’t have to declare an emergency in order to avail himself of that, but we know the president has already done that,” Goitein said.

Locking down communities or otherwise restricting the movements of large groups can conflict with constitutional rights of due process, according legal scholars.

“The due process clause basically says the government can’t restrict your liberty, which would be your ability to move around without some kind of process,” Wehle said. “That’s the first constitutional provision that will come to mind if we’re talking about quarantining people in their homes.”

As of Wednesday, 22 states representing 196 million Americans have declared some type of COVID-related emergency, according to James Hodge, director for public health law and policy, at Arizona State University.

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With the World Health Organization classifying the global coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, U.S. President Donald Trump announced late Wednesday a series of emergency measures, including an unprecedented 30-day suspension of all flights from Europe. Pixabay

New York state on Tuesday created a “containment zone” around the town of New Rochelle, the epicenter of the outbreak in the state. Schools, places of worship and other large public spaces within 1.6 kilometers of the town of nearly 80,000 residents will shut down for next two weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.

An emergency declaration allows federal and state authorities to put in place a host of so-called “social distancing measures,” including restricting travel, imposing curfews, dismissing schools, restricting public gatherings and implementing quarantines.

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The emergency measures raise constitutional questions. While quarantining individuals or groups suspected of exposure to COVID-19 is constitutional, creating “cordon sanitaire” or lockdown of groups of communities within or outside “hot zones,” is not, according to Hodge. (VOA)

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Every Hospital in US May Treat COVID-19 Patients: Health Human Service Agency

“Health care workers feel like they’re at war right now,” a New York hospital administrator told the investigators.

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COVID-19
The most common COVID-19 symptoms in children are shortness of breath, fever and cough. Pixabay

Every hospital in the United States may soon be treating coronavirus cases, the government’s Health and Human Services agency says in a new report.

Right now, three out of four hospitals are treating confirmed or suspected cases and are dealing with such problems as shortages of equipment, not enough protective gear for doctors and nurses, and hospital workers who are burned out and worried about their own safety.

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“Health care workers feel like they’re at war right now,” a New York hospital administrator told the investigators. “They are seeing people in their 30s, 40s, 50s dying…this takes a large emotional toll.”  

In another new government report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first study Monday on coronavirus in kids — the largest such U.S. study so far during the outbreak.

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Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the COVID-19 Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. VOA

It says children make up only 1.7% of U.S. coronavirus cases and while the illness is generally mild in kids, some do require hospitalization. Three children are known to have died from coronavirus.

The most common COVID-19 symptoms in children are shortness of breath, fever and cough. The number of cases has been slightly higher in boys than in girls.  

The results in the U.S. study are similar to the same kind of study in China and says social distancing by all ages is highly recommended.

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health, another federal agency, says it is expending its study into a drug called remdesivir, which successfully treated other coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, in animal tests.

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Remdesivir was given intravenously and when given early enough, it prevented infection and lessened the severity of the diseases.

The NIH is currently testing the drug on more than 400 human patients while its manufacturer, California-based Gilead Sciences, has given it to 1700 patients.

Dr. Libby Hohmann of Massachusetts General Hospital says she would enroll members of her family in the studies “in a heartbeat,” saying the lack of approved medications for COVID-19 is “terrifying”.

COVID-19
Medical personnel assigned to the hospital ship USNS Mercy docked at the Port of Los Angeles treat a non-COVID-19 patient from a Los Angeles-area medical facility. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump said at Monday’s coronavirus briefing that he told New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that the Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, can now be used for treating COVID patients from New York and New Jersey,

The Comfort is docked in New York Harbor.

Trump deployed the ship last month to take some of the pressure off New York hospitals treating non-coronavirus patients.

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But with so few needing treatment for other illnesses at this time, the ship also will now be used for COVID-19 patients.

Cuomo calls it a “welcome relief.” 

Israel will be on complete lockdown during the Passover holiday which begins Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday.

“Every family will sit down for Seder night on its own. Celebrate only with the immediate family that’s at home with you now,” Netanyahu said in a nationally televised message. He had earlier announced a lockdown for Easter and Ramadan later this month. 

A group of 24 current and former diplomats, including a U.S. secretary of state and two former defense chiefs, say they want President Trump to suspend some sanctions against Iran, which has the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East – more than 60,000 cases.

They say they are not asking Trump to lift the sanctions, just ease them so Iran can get the tools, training, and aid it needs to fight the virus. 

Easing the sanctions “could potentially save the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iranians and, by helping to curb the virus’s rapid spread across borders, the lives of its neighbors, Europeans, Americans and others,” the diplomats say. “Reaching across borders to save lives is imperative for our own security and must override political differences among governments,” it adds.

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Signatories include the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former US defense secretaries William Cohen and Chuck Hagel, and former NATO Secretary General George Robertson.

The Trump administration has resisted earlier calls to ease sanctions on Iran. (VOA)