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UPDATE 5-Trump declares coronavirus a national emergency, freeing $50 bln in funds

Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Makini Brice

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WASHINGTON, March 13 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency over the fast-spreading coronavirus, opening the door to what he said was about $50 billion in federal aid to fight a disease he said could have an even greater impact on the country.

"It could get worse. The next eight weeks will be critical," Trump said.

Trump made the announcement at a Rose Garden news conference as he battled to show Americans that he is aggressively addressing the health crisis after appearing to play down the threat for weeks.

"To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words. The action I am taking will open up access to up to $50 billion - a very important and a large amount for states and territories or localities in our shared fight against this disease," he said.

"Through talent or through luck, call it whatever you want, but through a very collective action and shared sacrifice, national determination, we will overcome the threat of the virus," Trump said.

Trump himself came into contact with a Brazilian official last Saturday who later tested positive for the coronavirus. The White House said on Thursday Trump was not exhibiting symptoms and had not been tested.

Trump, who has been heavily focused on hard-hit industries in making sure the U.S. economy is not devastated by a slowdown in consumer activity as a result of the virus, used much of his appearance on Friday to focus on potential victims.

He urged every state to set up emergency centers to help fight the coronavirus. Well remove or eliminate every obstacle necessary to deliver our people the care that they need and that theyre entitled to. No resource will be spared, nothing whatsoever, he said.

Pressure has been mounting for Trump to declare an infectious disease emergency under the 1988 law that would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide disaster funds to state and local governments and to deploy support teams. The power is rarely used. Former President Bill Clinton in 2000 declared such an emergency for West Nile virus.

Trump said the federal government was partnering with the private sector to accelerate production of test kits to make them more widely available to Americans.

He said there will be about 5 million coronavirus tests available but doubted that that many will be needed. He urged Americans to only seek out the test if they feel they need it.

"We don't want people to take a test if we feel that they shouldn't be doing it and we don't want everyone running out and taking - only if you have certain symptoms," he said.

Alongside Trump was Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health expert who is on Trump's coronavirus task force.

"We still have a long way to go. There will be many more cases. But we'll take care of that," said Fauci, long the nation's top infectious disease expert. "What's going on here today is going to help it end sooner than it would have."

Trump said the federal government would waive interest on student loans and ordered the Energy Department to take advantage of low oil prices to top up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Makini Brice, Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey, Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)