President Donald Trump on Wednesday downplayed the coronavirus risk for the U.S. and highlighted what he said were successful actions on the part of his administration to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19.
"We're at a very low level, and we want to keep it that way," Trump said, adding that Vice President Mike Pence will work with health officials on a coronavirus task force. He added his administration is working with state agencies, preparing to cope with a more widespread outbreak.
In response to a question about recent stock market declines, Trump predicted U.S. stocks and the economy could weather any negative impacts from the outbreak. He acknowledged the possibility of a hit to the U.S. GDP, but criticized the Fed's interest-rate policy and also blamed part of the equity selloff on the Democratic presidential nominee candidates.
Trump spoke briefly Wednesday evening from the the White House with members of his staff and health officials, as part of his administration's effort to reassure Americans, and Wall Street, amid fears over whether the U.S. is adequately prepared to deal with the coronavirus and the possibility of a deadly global pandemic.
His remarks come a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the public to prepare for a spread of coronavirus in the U.S. and after three days of stock-market declines.
Stocks gave up early gains to finish mixed Wednesday as the equity markets struggled in the wake of the worst four-day selloff on Wall Street since December 2018. Warnings from health officials that the coronavirus likely will spread has hit market sentiment hard.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 124 points, or 0.46%, to 26,958, the S&P 500 ended off 0.38%, while the Nasdaq finished up 0.17%.
Microsoft (MSFT) joined Apple (AAPL) and other major firms in cautioning investors that the coronavirus crisis will hurt their financial performance.
Also on Wednesday, more new coronavirus cases have been reported outside of China than inside the country where the outbreak started, and the first U.S. study of a drug to treat coronavirus has started at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, the National Institutes of Health said.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO's assistant director-general and an epidemiologist, warned that countries which do not have the level of preparedness and response technology that China has will find it difficult if not impossible to control virus. “Big conclusion for the world is -- it’s simply not ready,” Aylward said Tuesday in Geneva. “It could get ready very fast, but the big shift has to be in the mindset of how we’re going to manage the disease.”
Earlier Wednesday, the president tweeted "USA in great shape!", and blamed media outlets for "doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus [sic} look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible."
The White House on Monday sought $1.25 billion in new funding to deal with coronavirus and asked to transfer an additional $535 million from an account that was set to deal with Ebola.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week called administration's request "overdue” and "inadequate" to the potential of the emergency. Trump, in response, called Pelosi "incompetent" during the Wednesday evening press briefing.
According to media reports, Congressional leaders started working Wednesday on a larger emergency spending package, ranging from $4 billion and $8.5 billion, though congressional aides said the talks are in early stages.
"[Tuesday], the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time," the head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday in an update on the coronavirus disease COVID-19. "Outside China, there are now 2,790 cases in 37 countries, and 44 deaths," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing in Geneva.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that imported cases of COVID-19 in travelers have been detected in the U.S. “Person-to-person spread of COVID-19 also has been seen among close contacts of returned travelers from Wuhan, but at this time, this virus is not currently spreading in the community in the United States,” the agency said. A new case of coronavirus was confirmed in the U.S. Wednesday, the CDC said bringing the total number of cases, both those identified in the U.S. and among those repatriated, in the country to 60.
The World Health Organization reported Wednesday that there are, globally, a total of 81,109 confirmed cases, and almost 2,800 deaths.
CDC officials told reporters that the COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving and expanding and that cases are appearing without a known source of exposure.
Benjamin Haynes, a CDC spokesperson said in the agency’s daily briefing, “To date, our containment strategies have been largely successful. As a result, we have very few cases in the United States and no spread in the community. But as more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder. Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”
On Tuesday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said, “I think people should be as calm as possible in assessing this,” Kudlow said at the White House. “Emergency plans don’t necessarily mean they’ll have to be put into place.”
“We have contained this, I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight,” Kudlow said.