U.S. announces aid for China, other countries impacted by coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States stands ready to spend up to $100 million to assist China and other countries impacted by coronavirus, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks up during a joint press conference with Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Kamilov Abdulaziz Khafizovich in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Pool

“This commitment – along with the hundreds of millions generously donated by the American private sector – demonstrates strong U.S. leadership in response to the outbreak,” Pompeo said in a statement.

He said the U.S. government’s commitment would be met through existing funds “both directly and through multilateral organizations.”

Stephen Biegun, deputy secretary of state, told a media briefing that the funding would help support response efforts by the World Health Organization.

Biegun said the United States has also sent nearly 17.8 tons of medical supplies to China, including masks, gowns and other protective gear.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said the United States has submitted names of U.S. experts to the WHO for inclusion in a WHO delegation of experts to assist China with the outbreak response.

“This is a matter for Chinese leadership to make the final decision. We feel very optimistic that will happen,” he said.

Azar said so far the response in the United States is being covered through $105 million in funding through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

HHS last week sent Congress notice that it might transfer an additional $136 million from other HHS programs. In the briefing, Azar said no decision had yet been made to authorize any additional funds and said it was “premature” to ask Congress for additional funds to support the outbreak response.

Earlier on Friday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told Fox Business Network that the threat to the United States from the virus remained low and praised China for demonstrating “an unprecedented level of transparency” over the outbreak.

“President Trump took decisive and unprecedented action cancelling air flights, limiting access to this country from people coming from China now a week ago, and we continue to believe that the threat to the American public is low,” he said.

Pence said Trump had told Chinese President Xi Jinping in a telephone call on Thursday evening that the United States was ready to help via the WHO.

“The loss of life, the coronavirus that is impacting people of China, and fortunately, a small number of people in the United States to date is heartbreaking. But we stand ready to work with China to provide them any and all support,” Pence said.

Reporting by Tim Ahmann and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago and Michael Erman in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman