Coronavirus: US confirms total of 53 cases as White House mulls asking Congress for emergency funds

The White House is seen in Washington, DC, on Jan 27, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday (Feb 24) there were 14 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the country, apart from the 39 cases among those evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and the city of Wuhan in China.

This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 53.

The agency said the 14 confirmed cases included two new cases reported from Humboldt County and Sacramento County in California.

On Friday, the CDC reported 13 cases among those within the country and 21 cases from among the repatriated Americans and said they were preparing for the possibility of the spread of the virus through US communities that would force closures of schools and businesses.

US public health officials have also warned that cases among the repatriated citizens will likely increase.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is considering asking lawmakers for emergency funding to ramp up its response to the fast-spreading coronavirus, a White House spokesman said on Monday without providing details.

"We need some funding here to make sure that we ... protect all Americans, that we keep us safe," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox News Channel.

Asked how much funding the administration may ask Congress to approve, Gidley told reporters at the White House the administration was not yet ready to make an announcement.

Politico and The Washington Post, citing people familiar with the planning, reported the administration may request US$1 billion from Congress.

An administration official told Reuters the amount was being finalised, and the request could go to lawmakers this week.

The virus has spread to some 29 countries and territories beyond mainland China, with outbreaks in South Korea, Iran and Italy rattling global markets.

The United States has not had the kind of virus spread through communities as in China and elsewhere, but health officials are preparing for the possibility even as Americans affected so far have been quarantined.

Representatives for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declined to comment on the funding requests.

Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have urged the Trump administration to seek emergency funds after it notified Congress in recent weeks that it had already spent millions of dollars on its virus response, according to the Washington Post.

Trump has been at odds with his own White House advisers over China's coronavirus response. He has sought to downplay the impact of the virus, saying it could fade in April with warmer weather - something health experts said is unknown.

"We have aggressively worked to combat the spread of this virus, tried to prevent it as best we could from coming into this country," Gidley told reporters.

The administration is also grappling with where to send Americans evacuated from the Diamond Princess who tested positive for the virus after backing off plans to quarantine them in a federal facility in Alabama.

In a statement on Monday, HHS cited a "rapidly evolving situation," but said the Alabama center was "not needed at this time" and that it was looking for alternatives.

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