White House calls for emergency funding over coronavirus

By Andrew Taylor, Associated Press

The White House on Monday sent legislators an urgent budget request for $2.5 billion (£1.93 billion) to address the deadly coronavirus outbreak, whose spread and threat to the global economy has rocked financial markets.

The budget office at the White House said the funds were for vaccines, treatment, and protective equipment.

The request could advance quickly through Congress and came as coronavirus fears were credited with Monday’s 1,000-plus point drop in the Dow Jones Industrials.

Concerns about the disease are also being increasingly seen as a potential political threat to President Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump during his visit to India on Monday. The coronavirus is shaping as a potential political problem for the president (Alex Brandon/AP)

The request was released Monday evening and came as key government accounts were running low.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has already tapped into an emergency infectious disease rapid response fund. It is seeking to transfer more than $130 million (£100 million) from other HHS accounts to combat the virus, and is pressing for more.

“Today, the Administration is transmitting to Congress a $2.5 billion supplemental funding plan to accelerate vaccine development, support preparedness and response activities and to procure much needed equipment and supplies,” said White House budget office spokeswoman Rachel Semmel.

“We are also freeing up existing resources and allowing for greater flexibilities for response activities.”

Senators returning to Washington after a week-long recess will receive a classified briefing Tuesday morning on the government’s coronavirus response, a Senate aide said.

“All of the warning lights are flashing bright red. We are staring down a potential pandemic and the administration has no plan,” said Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer.

The senior Democrat blasted a shortage of kits to test for the virus and President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts to health agencies like the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have a crisis of coronavirus and President Trump has no plan, no urgency, no understanding of the facts or how to coordinate a response,” he said.

Mr Trump was a vocal critic of former President Barack Obama’s response to the 2014 Ebola scare, which barely touched the US but was seen as a factor in that year’s midterm elections, which restored control of the Senate to Republicans.

Mr Trump took to Twitter to defend his record.

“The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” he tweeted.

Among the needs is funding to reimburse the Pentagon, which is housing evacuees from China — who are required to undergo 14-day quarantines — at several military bases in California.

Democrats controlling the House wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar earlier this month to request funds to help speed development of a coronavirus vaccine, expand laboratory capacity, and beef up screening at US entry points.

Mr Azar is slated to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, and the U.S. response to the outbreak is sure to be a major topic.

The stock market plummeted on Monday over coronavirus fears, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping by 3.6% — or more than 1,000 points.

The quickly spreading virus has slammed the economy of China, where the virus originated, and caseloads are rapidly increasing in countries such as South Korea, Iran, and Italy.

In San Francisco, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a walking tour of Chinatown on Monday to let the public know the neighbourhood was safe and open for business.