White House asks Congress for USD2.5B to fight coronavirus

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House plans to spend a total of USD2.5 billion fighting the deadly new coronavirus as infections mushroom around the globe, United States (US) media reported on Monday.

In a request to Congress, US President Donald Trump’s administration asked for USD1.8 billion in emergency spending, according to The Washington Post.

The request was for USD1.25 billion in new funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the transfer of an additional USD535 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-prioritisation of Health and Human Services funding, for a total of USD2.5 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.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi walks with Florence Fang (C) and Claudine Cheng during a tour of Chinatown in San Francisco. Pelosi chatted with shop owners and toured Chinatown in an effort to let people know the neighbourhood is safe and would welcome their support. PHOTO: AP

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 Centres 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 Organisation 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 travellers from infected nations.

There are 53 cases in the US 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.”