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Biden slams Trump for cutting health programs before coronavirus outbreak

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden talks to journalists during a campaign event in Mt Pleasant, Iowa, U.S., January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

FORT MADISON, Iowa (Reuters) - Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden on Friday criticized President Donald Trump for reducing U.S. oversight of global health issues before the coronavirus outbreak.

“We have, right now, a crisis with the coronavirus,” said Biden, who is in Iowa campaigning before the Midwestern farm state holds Democrats’ first nominating contest on Monday. “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia - hysterical xenophobia - and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science.”

Biden said Trump had rolled back progress on global health oversight that occurred when he was vice president from 2009 to 2017.

In particular, he cited “draconian cuts” the White House proposed to the budgets of “the very agencies that we need to fight this outbreak,” including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

A spokesman for Trump’s re-election campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Trump administration declared a public health emergency on Friday and blocked foreign nationals who have travelled to China from entering the country. They also planned to impose a two-week quarantine on U.S. citizens who have travelled within the past two weeks to China’s Hubei Province, the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic.

Still, officials insisted the risk to Americans from the flu-like illness is low. The outbreak has claimed more than 250 lives. None of the U.S. cases have been fatal, and all but one of the patients contracted coronavirus while they were travelling in China.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; editing by Jonathan Oatis