After the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, several countries have started invoking emergency powers to combat the threat. US President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 13 and said that it was needed to “unleash the full power” of the federal government.
The National Emergencies Act, passed in 1976, allows the President to access billions of dollars to put an end to the emergency situation, which is the Coronavirus crisis at this time. It is an umbrella act which is used to invoke several other laws resulting in a complex cascade of effects.
“The emergency orders I am issuing today will also confer broad new authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services,” said Trump during the declaration.
In the case of public health emergencies, the laws include provisions of the Public Health Service Act, the Stafford Act, the Social Security Act and several other statutes. It is now expected that the US President will assume the powers granted to him under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988.
Under the Stafford Act, the US President can use funds for disaster relief other emergency assistance funds with the approval of the House of Representatives. The administration can tap into the account which currently has more than $40 billion. The act enables the President to order any federal agency to use its personnel and resources to support the efforts. After declaring the emergency, Trump urged every state to set up emergency operation centres effective immediately.
Japan also approved a bill on March 13 to give Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emergency powers to take drastic measures. The amended bill will now let Japan’s PM close schools and cancel large gatherings in order to contain and mitigate the risk of COVID-19.
While Abe has already requested schools to shut down and event organisers to cancel large gatherings, they are bound to comply with it. Abe can now issue orders for similar action but he has to declare a state of emergency to avail the new powers. The bill was approved in the Upper House after it was passed in the Lower House on March 12.