March 6, 2020 / 3:01 PM / a month ago

Trump approves $8.3 billion to fight coronavirus, cancels visit to CDC

March 6 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump called off a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Friday, saying he did not want to “interfere” as the agency races to stem the coronavirus that has infected more than 100,000 people globally.

Trump canceled his plans to travel to the headquarters to the main U.S. agency fighting the outbreak before signing a bill allocating $8.3 billion to stop the virus from spreading. The bill breezed through the Senate with a passing vote of 96-1 on Thursday.

“The CDC has been proactive and prepared since the very beginning and the President does not want to interfere with the CDC’s mission to protect the health and welfare of their people and the agency,” a White House official said, explaining the decision to call off the trip.

The death toll from the respiratory illness rose to 14 in the United States on Friday, according to public health data compiled by the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

More than 100,000 people have been infected worldwide, including 233 in the United States. More than 3,400 people have died across the world, most of them in China.

Twelve of the U.S. fatalities were recorded in King County, Washington, where at least six people have died in an outbreak at a nursing facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland.

“This is a critical moment in the growing outbreak of COVID-19 in King County,” the county said in a statement on Thursday. “All King County residents should follow public health recommendations. Together, we may potentially impact the spread of the disease in our community.”

More than $3 billion of the spending bill money is intended for research and development into vaccines, test kits and treatments. There are no so far no approved vaccines or treatments for the illness, which began in China and has spread to some 80 countries and territories.

After signing the bill, Trump said he may go to Atlanta after all, without giving any time frame. He said the White House was told someone at the agency had contracted the virus, suggesting that the trip was called off as a precaution. But Trump said the patient later tested negative.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, earlier acknowledged missteps by the administration in failing to get coronavirus test kits out quickly, but said the overall response was going well.

“There were certainly some missteps in the beginning regarding getting tests out, some technical issues that slowed down the process,” he told NBC’s Today program. “Although there’s been a delay, in the next couple of weeks we should be ratcheted up to get many more out.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, tasked by Trump to lead the coronavirus response, on Thursday said there were not enough tests to meet demand going forward.

The virus spread to four more U.S. states on Thursday - Colorado, Maryland, Tennessee and Texas - and the number of cases in New York doubled to 22, eight of which were connected to a Manhattan lawyer who lives in Westchester County, north of the city.

On Thursday, a helicopter flew testing kits to a cruise liner idled off the coast of California and barred from docking in San Francisco after at least 35 people developed flu-like symptoms aboard the ship, which has been linked to two other confirmed cases of COVID-19.

As in other countries, Americans faced a new reality where they were often asked to stay home from work, schools were closed, large gatherings and sporting events canceled, and stores emptied of staples like toiletries and water.

Alphabet Inc’s Google on Thursday joined Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc and Microsoft Corp in recommending that its employees in the Seattle area work from home, after some contracted the virus.

The companies’ work-from-home recommendation will affect more than 100,000 people in the area. (Reporting by Susan Heavey and Steve Holland in Washington, D.C.; Writing by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Nick Macfie)

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