Trump administration asks for US$2.5 bil to battle Covid-19

Trump’s administration plans on using more than US$1 bil to create a vaccine. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration said it has asked Congress for US$2.5 billion – half new money, half repurposed from other efforts – to battle the spread of the coronavirus.

The announcement came on the same day that global financial markets were shaken over reports that the illness had spread to Italy and South Korea. US stock benchmarks slid more than 3% on Monday, with the S&P 500 Index falling the most since February 2018.

“Today, the administration is transmitting to Congress a US$2.5 billion supplemental funding plan to accelerate vaccine development, support preparedness and response activities and to procure much needed equipment and supplies,” Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for the office of management and budget said in a statement on Monday night.

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

More than US$1 billion of the money would be dedicated to creating a vaccine, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Other parts of the request would be put toward stockpiling of protective masks and therapeutic programmes, said the person, who was granted anonymity to discuss health policy deliberations.

The person familiar with the matter said that US$535 million of the US$2.5 billion would come from funds that were not spent during US efforts to combat the Ebola virus.

In total, US$1.25 billion is reallocated funds, while US$1.25 billion is new.

Democrats rejected the request, saying existing money shouldn’t be used to fight the coronavirus, and pledged a funding package of their own.

“That President Trump is trying to steal funds dedicated to fight Ebola – which is still considered an epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – is indicative of his towering incompetence and further proof that he and his administration aren’t taking the coronavirus crisis as seriously as they need to be,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a statement on Monday night, pointed out that President Donald Trump’s budget proposes cutting funds for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This undersized funding request shows an ongoing failure to understand urgent public health needs,” she said.

The president, who is on a visit to India, tweeted earlier Monday that “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries”.

The coronavirus outbreak, which began in China’s Hubei province, has infected some 80,000 people across the world. More than 2,600 people have died of the disease.

The CDC has said it is preparing as if the virus’ spread in the US is inevitable and that border control measures to screen travellers will only slow the outbreak, not stop it.