The United States and Canada closed their mutual border to "non-essential traffic" on Wednesday while a military hospital ship was due to head to New York City as part of a growing battle to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In a struggle that he previously minimized but now describes as akin to war, President Donald Trump said he was invoking a decades-old law called the Defense Production Act to allow the US government to accelerate production of needed equipment such as masks and protective gear during the health crisis.
Vice President Mike Pence, leading the federal response to the virus, said the government was asking every American to delay elective medical procedures during the crisis while the healthcare system deals with the threat of the fast-spreading virus.
With cases of the respiratory illness caused by the virus reported in all 50 states and the total number of known US infections surging past 7,300, millions of Americans stayed at home instead of commuting to work or going to school. The US death toll was at least 118.
New York, Washington state and California have the most cases of the virus, with Washington accounting for almost half of all US deaths from the illness.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the federal government was sending the US Navy hospital ship Comfort, with about 1,000 rooms, to be moored in New York Harbor to help deal with medical needs in the most populous US city. Trump said another hospital ship was being readied for duty on the West Coast.
Cuomo also said he would not approve a directive that residents of New York City be confined to their homes, a "shelter-in-place" proposal that Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was "almost to the point" of recommending.
Cuomo said he is ordering all non-essential businesses in the state require at least half of employees to work from home or simply stay home. His state has more than 2,380 known cases of people infected with the virus.
"Let's maintain the public health. We'll figure out the economy afterwards," Cuomo said at a news conference.
Some New Yorkers who were out and about seemed to be taking the new restrictions on daily life in stride. At Tompkins Square Park in lower Manhattan, Rafael Viera, a 45-year-old retail manager, said he left his house for two reasons: "exercise and coffee."
"I take the precautions they ask me to take," he said. "I'm not super worried. You can still find food. You may not find what you want to eat, but you won't go hungry."
Trump said the closure of the border with Canada was by mutual consent would have no effect on trade.
The two nations share one of the world's largest bilateral trading relationships and their economies are highly integrated. A strict ban on border crossing would cause major problems for the auto sector as well as the transportation of food and medicines.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa that travellers could no longer cross the border for recreation and tourism.
"Our governments recognize it is critical that we preserve supply chains between both countries," Trudeau added. "These supply chains ensure that food, fuel and life-saving medicines reach people on both sides of the border."
STOCKS SWOON AGAIN
Wall Street's main indexes were down around 9% on Wednesday after a positive day on Tuesday, as growing signs of coronavirus damage to corporate America overshadowed optimism about sweeping official moves to protect the economy. With Wednesday's losses, Wall Street stocks were down about 30% from their peak last month.
Many people have lost jobs with numerous businesses closing during the crisis even as the Trump administration works with Congress to approve massive economic stimulus legislation.
Trump, facing criticism for his handling of the crisis as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3, promised that Americans would soon see money to help offset the economic pain of the seismic closures across the country.
His administration is working with Congress to get a $1 trillion stimulus package, possibly to include $1,000 direct payments to individual Americans.
In addition to the stimulus package, his administration asked Congress for another $45.8 billion to shore up federal agencies battling the outbreak, seeking extra money to help sanitize airports, get protective equipment to federal officers and shore up cyber defences.
Meanwhile, US restaurants could take a $225 billion sales hit in the next three months - about 25% of the projected annual sales total - as they shut down or curtail operations to help slow the fast-spreading outbreak, an industry trade group said.
The US Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday recommended switching to virtual patient visits instead of in-person monitoring for clinical studies, as signs emerge that the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak is disrupting trials involving new drugs and medical devices.
The unprecedented disruptions caused by the pandemic extended to the glimmering casinos of Las Vegas, America's gambling capital, which were ordered to go dark starting on Wednesday
"This is only common sense," said Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak in mandating the closure of all non-essential businesses, including the casinos that drive his state's economy.