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Media captionTrump grilled on use of term ‘Chinese virus’

President Donald Trump has said the US government’s housing agency will stop repossessing homes until the end of April amid the coronavirus emergency.

Evictions will be suspended over the same time frame in a moratorium protecting eight million mortgages.

Mr Trump also invoked a Korean War-era defence act in case the government needs to ramp up production of vital medical supplies.

The US has nearly 8,000 cases of Covid-19 and has seen 138 deaths so far.

Repossessions (foreclosures) and evictions will be suspended for at least 60 days, said the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

The moratorium covers single-family mortgages backed by state-sponsored US mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Property analysts say the move is designed to avoid a repeat of the foreclosure glut seen during the 2008 financial crisis.

In the US coronavirus task force’s update on Wednesday, Mr Trump said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which often has a starring role in disaster movies, had been activated at its highest level across the country.

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Media captionThe BBC’s Laura Foster explains how you can recognise the symptoms of coronavirus.

The president said two US Navy hospitals ships would be pressed into service to help alleviate an expected shortage of sick beds.

The USNS Comfort is expected to be sent to New York Harbor, though defence officials said it is currently undergoing maintenance in Virginia.

The other vessel, USNS Mercy, is being prepared to deploy to a location on the West Coast.

Mr Trump also announced the US is working on a self-swab coronavirus test to expand diagnostic capacity.

He has directed the US government’s drug agency to reduce regulatory barriers for testing.

Dr Deborah Birx, co-ordinator for the US coronavirus response, said the caseload would soon soar as laboratories begin running “tens of thousands of tests per day”.

“To every American out there, it will be five to six days worth of tests being run in 24 to 48 hours,” she said. “So our curves will not be stable until sometime next week.”

The White House is asking Americans to postpone any non-essential health or dental procedures to help relieve pressure on the US health system and avoid spreading the virus.

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Media captionCoronavirus: Venice’s canals look clearer after lockdown

Covid-19’s spread across the US has caused many hotels, restaurants, bars, venues and other businesses to shutter.

In his remarks on Wednesday, the president rejected Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s warning to Republican senators that US unemployment could rocket to 20% because of the pandemic.

Mr Trump said that was only the “absolute, total worst case scenario”.

The US Senate on Wednesday passed legislation 90-8 to provide free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave and expanded safety-net spending for Americans.

It is estimated the sick leave and family leave provisions of the bill alone will cost $105bn (£90bn).

Congress and the White House are discussing additional stimulus measures that could cost more than $1tn.

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