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February 27, 2020

Trump defends coronavirus response, warns media against spreading panic


Thu, Feb 27, 2020

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his administration´s response to the novel coronavirus, accusing the media of spreading panic as he announced an evening news conference on the epidemic.

It comes a day after a senior health official warned that, despite containment efforts, it was only a matter of time before the COVID-19 disease spreads in the United States.

"I will be having a News Conference at the White House, on this subject, today at 6:00 P.M." Trump tweeted, adding that officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would attend.

The CDC urged Americans Tuesday to be prepared to cancel mass gatherings and urged schools and businesses to develop teleworking plans, amid dire warnings that countries are not ready to contain an outbreak that has infected 80,000 people, mostly in China.

As of Wednesday, there were 60 cases in the United States. This included 45 people repatriated from a cruise ship off the coast of Japan or from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the heart of the epidemic.

US lawmakers have accused the Trump administration of downplaying the crisis and underfunding the response.

During a trip to India, the president told reporters experts were "very close to a vaccine," forcing White House officials to clarify later that he was talking about Ebola, not the novel coronavirus.

White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow has also come in for criticism after telling CNBC the virus was "contained" -- on the same day the CDC warned that a US outbreak was inevitable.

But Trump has insisted his administration is "doing a GREAT job," blaming the media Wednesday for trying to stoke fear in a tweet in which he spelled the name of the virus incorrectly.

"Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible," he tweeted, using a derogatory name for cable news network MSNBC that suggests it is connected to the Democratic National Committee.

"Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!"

- Economic hit -

Wall Street stocks opened higher after suffering a second straight rout Tuesday, with losses picking up after US health officials warned the epidemic was likely to hit the world´s biggest economy.

With cases being reported in more countries -- and lockdowns in nations including Austria, Italy and Spain -- traders are worried about the impact on the global economy.

In the US, officials have voiced fears for the supply of medical products because a high proportion of ingredients used to make medicine comes from China.

The Food and Drug Administration has also identified personal protective equipment, such as face masks, respirators and gowns, as being among products at risk of shortages.

On Monday, the White House asked Congress to make at least $2.5 billion available for preparedness and response, including developing treatments and vaccines and buying equipment for a strategic national stockpile.

But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the figure was "too little and too late," proposing instead $8.5 billion.

"Congress must act swiftly to confront the threat of this global health crisis," he said, adding: "For context, Congress appropriated more than $6B for the Pandemic Flu in 2006 and more than $7B for H1N1 flu in 2009."

Trump has not appointed a point person or task force on the crisis, while the global health security expert position on the National Security Council has been left vacant for almost two years.

Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Wednesday took aim at the administration for seeking to cut funding for public health agencies in its 2021 budget proposal, including to the CDC, central to the battle against the coronavirus.

Invited to speak before Congress, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar defended the proposal and said the administration´s plans would deliver a system that "works better, rather than just spends more."