Donald Trump has taken the unusual step of authorising the Pentagon to call up reserve troops to help with the coronavirus response, as the US and Europe struggle to slow the spread of the outbreak.
The US president gave Mark Esper, the US defence secretary, the power to call up anyone in the reserve forces and National Guard who has medical capabilities.
The Pentagon said: “Decisions about which individuals may be activated are still being reviewed. Generally, these members will be persons in headquarters units and persons with high-demand medical capabilities whose call-up would not adversely affect their civilian communities.”
The move came shortly after the US overtook China in having the most reported cases of the disease and America’s death toll rose to more than 1,300.
Experts said calling up reserve troops to help fight a medical emergency was a highly unusual step for a US president to take.
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said: “Most mobilisations deal with natural disasters or, in some cases, riots and enforcement of federal law or, after 9/11, with the threat of terrorism. This may well be a first.”
The rapid spread of the disease across the US has prompted the president to take steps he previously resisted, including triggering his wartime powers to compel General Motors to make ventilators needed to treat coronavirus patients.
Later on Saturday Mr Trump will see off the navy ship the USNS Comfort, which is setting off for New York to assist in the city’s fight against the crisis.
Europe also reported its highest death toll over a 24-hour period so far on Saturday, with 832 people losing their lives in Spain and 919 in Italy — the deadliest day in any country since the outbreak began.
Tokyo reported 63 new cases on Saturday, a single-day record that prompted fears the country, which has been one of the most successful at containing the virus, might be about to experience a second wave of infections. The global number of those with the disease is now more than 600,000.