Donald Trump is under pressure to more aggressively tackle the threat of a coronavirus outbreak in the world’s largest economy, as Democratic politicians accuse him playing down the crisis and expectations rise for a broader economic and financial hit from the crisis.
After returning to Washington early on Wednesday from a trip to India, Mr Trump was set to meet senior advisers to discuss the US response to the global coronavirus outbreak, which triggered a large drop in US equity markets early this week that was only partly offset by a rally on Wednesday.
In a pair of tweets on Wednesday, Mr Trump attacked media companies and Democratic political rivals for exaggerating the US’s vulnerability to the coronavirus and praised US health officials. He said he would hold a press conference at 6pm in Washington on the outbreak.
The US president’s attention to the coronavirus crisis ramped up sharply in recent days after US equity indices plunged on Monday and Tuesday. His own top health officials, including representatives from the Centers for Disease Control, said the country should prepare for the outbreak to spread in American communities.
Although the White House has asked Congress for $2.5bn in additional funding to tackle the crisis, Democrats have charged that this vastly understates the scale of the problem confronting the country if new cases of coronavirus began to multiply.
Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the US Senate, said $8.5bn would be needed to address the crisis. He accused the US president of proposing cuts to health agencies such as the CDC, preventing America’s ability to fight epidemics, and trusting “other governments” like China to contain the outbreak.
“You can spin this any way you want, but it’s incompetence,” Mr Schumer wrote in a tweet on Wednesday. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, slammed Mr Trump’s comments earlier in the week that the coronavirus outbreak was “under control”.
“I don’t think the president knows what he’s talking about — once again,” Ms Pelosi said on Wednesday.
At a congressional hearing, Alex Azar, the US health secretary, sought to defend the Trump administration’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak, while insisting that the government was ready to be more forceful if needed.
“The risk right now is very low to Americans,” Mr Azar said. “From a public health perspective we technically are in a state of containment in the United States . . . We have always been clear . . . that could change rapidly.”
The CDC said there were 57 cases of coronavirus in the US. That total includes 40 passengers brought back to the US from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, three individuals repatriated from China and 14 other US cases, mostly in California.
White House officials denied media reports that the Trump administration was preparing to appoint a special tsar to co-ordinate the coronavirus response, along the lines of Barack Obama’s selection of a senior official to address the Ebola outbreak during his second term in office.
But the Trump administration is facing pressure — even from within the Republican party — to speed up the development of a coronavirus vaccine, tighten its travel restrictions for affected countries, and make testing more widely available.
“One of the things that I’m waiting to see is the ability to test much more rapidly. Right now all the testing has to be done through the CDC because there were some difficulties with the original test kits,” Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, told Fox Business Network.
“We’ve got to get that fixed so that our public health people on the ground, back in our homes, are able to test for this virus quickly and make the assessment, is this the flu as usual or is this that new virus?”