Trump administration weighs emergency funds to combat coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is considering asking lawmakers for emergency funding to ramp up its response to the fast-spreading coronavirus, a White House spokesman said on Monday without providing details.

FILE PHOTO: Passengers arrive at LAX from Shanghai, China, after a positive case of the coronavirus was announced in the Orange County suburb of Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Ringo Chiu/File Photo

“We need some funding here to make sure that we … protect all Americans, that we keep us safe,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox News Channel.

Asked how much funding the administration may ask Congress to approve, Gidley told reporters at the White House the administration was not yet ready to make an announcement.

Politico and The Washington Post, citing people familiar with the planning, reported the administration may request $1 billion from Congress. An administration official told Reuters the amount was being finalized, and the request could go to lawmakers this week.

The virus has spread to some 29 countries and territories beyond mainland China, with outbreaks in South Korea, Iran and Italy rattling global markets. [L3N2AO07M]

The United States has not had the kind of virus spread through communities as in China and elsewhere, but health officials are preparing for the possibility even as Americans affected so far have been quarantined.

There have been a total of 53 confirmed U.S. cases of the new coronavirus so far – 14 in people diagnosed in the United States and 39 among Americans repatriated from the outbreak’s epicenter of Wuhan, China, and from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [nL3N2AO3I5]

U.S. health officials have warned that cases among repatriated citizens will likely increase.

Representatives for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declined to comment on the funding requests.

Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have urged the Trump administration to seek emergency funds after it notified Congress in recent weeks that it had already spent millions of dollars on its virus response, according to the Washington Post.

Trump has been at odds with his own White House advisers over China’s coronavirus response. He has sought to downplay the impact of the virus, saying it could fade in April with warmer weather – something health experts said is unknown.

“We have aggressively worked to combat the spread of this virus, tried to prevent it as best we could from coming into this country,” Gidley told reporters.

The administration is also grappling with where to send Americans evacuated from the Diamond Princess who tested positive for the virus after backing off plans to quarantine them in a federal facility in Alabama.

In a statement on Monday, HHS cited a “rapidly evolving situation,” but said the Alabama center was “not needed at this time” and that it was looking for alternatives.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Caroline Humer in New York, Manas Mishra in Bengaluru, Makini Brice and Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Bill Berkrot and David Gregorio

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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