President Donald Trump sought this week to minimize fears about coronavirus spreading rampantly throughout the U.S., saying the situation is “very well under control in our country.”
At the same time, the Trump administration has asked Congress for an additional $2.5 billion to prepare in case of a widespread outbreak and to assist other nations.
“We have very few people with it,” the president said at a news conference in India near the close of a two-day visit.
Trump referenced a group of 14 Americans who tested positive for coronavirus and were among hundreds of U.S. citizens recently evacuated from a cruise ship off the Japanese coast and brought to U.S. facilities.
Trump said those individuals were placed into quarantine and “we think they’ll be in very good shape very, very soon.”
In earlier remarks Tuesday, Trump said he wants the additional $2.5 billion to shore up defenses “in case something should happen” and to help other countries.
The White House budget office said the funding would be used for vaccine development, treatment and protective equipment, but Democrats immediately slammed the request as insufficient.
The budget request came as coronavirus fears were credited with Monday’s 1,000-plus-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
The rapid spread of the virus around the world and its threat to the global economy has rocked financial markets, but Trump said China is getting the epidemic under control.
“They’ve had a rough patch and … it looks like they’re getting it under control more and more,” Trump said. “They’re getting it more and more under control so I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away, but we lost almost 1,000 points yesterday on the (stock) market.”
The funding request came as key government accounts were running low. The Department of Health and Human Services had already tapped into an emergency infectious disease rapid response fund and was seeking to transfer more than $130 million from other HHS accounts to combat the virus but is pressing for more.
The Trump administration is requesting $1.25 billion in new funding and wants to transfer $535 million more from an Ebola preparedness account that’s been a top priority of Democrats. It anticipates shifting money from other HHS accounts and other agencies to complete the $2.5 billion response plan.
Democrats said Trump’s attempt to tap existing Ebola prevention funding was dead on arrival.
“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, D-N.Y., who blasted a shortage of kits to test for the virus and Trump’s proposed budget cuts to health agencies including the Centers 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.”
Trump said a “lot of talent” and a “lot of brainpower” was being tapped for the coronavirus response. He criticized Schumer for panning the budget request.
“These characters,” Trump said of Democrats. “They’re just not good for our country.”
Democrats in control the House wrote 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 efforts at U.S. entry 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. More than 80,000 people around the world have been infected with coronavirus, with more than 2,500 deaths, mostly in China.
As of Tuesday, the United States had 35 of the more than 80,000 known cases. Separately, one U.S. citizen died in China.