White House asks Congress for $2.5 bn to fight coronavirus: reports

Dozens of cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in the United States (AFP Photo/Mark RALSTON)

Washington (AFP) - The White House plans to spend a total of $2.5 billion fighting the deadly new coronavirus as infections mushroom around the globe, US media reported Monday.

In a request to Congress, President Donald Trump's administration asked for $1.8 billion in emergency spending, according to The Washington Post.

The request was for $1.25 billion in new funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the transfer of an additional $535 million originally set aside to fight Ebola.

The White House said it expected to draw additional money from other agencies throughout the government, as well as from the re-prioritization of Health and Human Services funding, for a total of $2.5 billion.

The funds will be spent on areas such as laboratory tests, quarantine, vaccine research and development as well as supporting affected states, The Washington Post said.

Democrats immediately slammed the request as too low, and accused the White House of dropping the ball on disease preparedness and funding.

"The President's request for coronavirus response funding is long overdue and completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

"For almost two years, the Trump Administration has left critical positions in charge of managing pandemics at the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security vacant," she added in a statement.

"His most recent budget called for slashing funding for the Centers for Disease Control, which is on the frontlines of this emergency. And now, the President is compounding our vulnerabilities by seeking to ransack funds still needed to keep Ebola in check."

Pelosi said the House of Representatives will "swiftly advance a strong, strategic funding package that fully addresses the scale and seriousness of this public health crisis."

The new coronavirus has peaked in China but could still grow into a pandemic, the World Health Organization has warned.

The coronavirus situation is worsening in other countries, with more than 2,000 cases and 30 deaths reported abroad, prompting a raft of restrictions on travelers from infected nations.

There are 53 cases in the United States so far, including 39 among people repatriated from China and the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan.

"Despite urgent warnings from Congress and the public health community, the Trump administration took weeks to request these emergency funds," said House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Nita Lowey.

"It is profoundly disturbing that their answer now is to raid money Congress has designated for other critical public health priorities. Worse still, their overall request still falls short of what is needed for an effective, comprehensive government-wide response."