President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he signed an executive order temporarily suspending immigration into the US amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.  

"This will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens," he told reporters at a White House coronavirus task force briefing.

"Crucially, it will also help preserve our healthcare resources for American patients. We have to take care of our patients, we have to protect our great American workers, and that's what we are doing.”

All legal immigration has been halted for at least 60 days, but the president said that could be extended or changed.

The order will only apply to those seeking permanent residency, meaning green card-seekers, but will not apply to those seeking US entry temporarily.

Thousands of Americans have lost their jobs amid the pandemic as various state governors have ordered non-essential businesses to halt operations and many businesses deemed essential are operating on a reduced basis.

Unemployment claims have continued to skyrocket each week with some 22 million Americans without jobs.

The US leads the world in the number of coronavirus infections and deaths with nearly 838,000 cases as well as over 46,000 fatalities and 77,340 recoveries.

Since the virus emerged last December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, it has spread to at least 185 countries and regions.

There are more than 2.6 million confirmed infections globally and nearly 183,000 deaths.