Trump invokes emergency authority, no new cases in Wuhan

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A man carries a toddler on his shoulders as both wear protective face masks to help prevent the coronavirus outbreak walk on a street in Beijing, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. As the pandemic expanded its reach, China and South Korea were trying to hold their hard-fought gains. China is quarantining new arrivals, who in recent days have accounted for an increasing number of cases, and South Korea starting Thursday will increase screenings of all overseas arrivals. The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people, but severe illness is more likely in the elderly and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

BERLIN – President Donald Trump invoked emergency authority to marshal industry to fight the coronavirus, as the economic fallout from the pandemic mounted Wednesday with major U.S. auto manufacturers saying they are shutting down their North American factories.

The announcements came hours before China said the former virus epicenter of Wuhan and its surrounding province had reported no new cases, a dramatic development in the city overwhelmed by thousands of new patients each day when the outbreak was peaking there last month.

On a day of head-spinning developments:

— Stocks tumbled again on Wall Street on fears of a prolonged recession, falling so fast they triggered another automatic trading halt. The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed more than 1,300 points, or over 6%, and has now lost nearly all of the big gains it had posted since Trump's inauguration. Oil dropped below $21 per barrel for the first time since 2002.

— More borders slammed shut across Europe and North America, with the U.S. and Canada closing their boundaries to all but essential travel and Trump saying he plans to assert extraordinary powers to immediately turn back to Mexico anyone who crosses over the southern border illegally.

— The White House pressed Congress to swiftly pass a potentially $1 trillion rescue package to prop up the economy and speed relief checks to Americans in a matter of weeks.

Calling himself a “wartime president,” Trump invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 to steer industrial output and overcome shortages of face masks, ventilators and other supplies as hospitals brace for an expected onslaught of cases.

The Korean War-era law gives the president extraordinary authority to compel industries to expand production and turn out vital materials. It was most recently used after the 2017 Puerto Rico hurricane to speed up contracts for food and other necessities.