- The Washington Times
Monday, February 3, 2020

The Trump administration has notified Congress that it will tap $105 million from a reserve fund designed to combat infectious diseases in response to the coronavirus that has sickened thousands in China and put the rest of the globe on high alert.

The money will support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s screenings at ports of entry and lab activity, educate the public, and help transfer and monitor U.S. citizens being transferred out of China.

Also, the Department of Health and Human Services might transfer $136 million from other accounts to combat the outbreak, which is evolving by the day.

The demand for funding underscores the urgency of the situation around the coronavirus, which has been traced to a live-animal market in Wuhan, China, a city with a population of 11 million.

China’s stock market plunged upon opening Monday, as the World Health Organization reported more than 20,000 people have been sickened by the virus worldwide, including a spike of more than 3,200 new cases over the previous 24 hours.

The bulk of cases are in China, but at least 153 cases have been reported in 23 other countries. A couple in California became ill after the husband traveled to the Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, bringing the number of U.S.-based cases to 11.

U.S. officials on Sunday imposed levels of quarantine rules for Americans returning from China and a ban on foreign nationals who have been in mainland China within the last 14 days, with exceptions for family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Much is still unknown about the coronavirus, but it can cause severe pneumonia and acute respiratory distress, evoking the SARS epidemic from 2002-2003.

Chinese scientists said they have more evidence that it likely originated in bats. In a study published in the journal Nature, Shi Zhen-Li and colleagues at the Wuhan Institute of Virology reported that genome sequences from seven patients were 96% identical to a bat coronavirus.

SARS is also believed to have originated in bats, although it jumped to civet cats before infecting people.

HHS notified Congress on Sunday it might need to siphon money from other accounts “out of an abundance of caution and to ensure” a solid response to the virus, though it’s not certain that it will make the funding transfer. The law requires the agency to wait 15 days after providing notice to Congress to access the funds.

A person familiar with the request on Capitol Hill said HHS might not transfer the full amount and has not identified which accounts might be drawn down to accommodate the transfer.

Beyond funding, the CDC is trying to expedite the use of potentially life-saving diagnostics and products for the coronavirus through the Food and Drug Administration, amid increasing cases and stricter travel protocols aimed at placating the growing global outbreak.

Submitting an “emergency use authorization package” to the FDA would allow public health labs across the U.S. to use its diagnostic test and greatly improve the capacity to test for the coronavirus nationwide, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s director of respiratory diseases.

Right now, the CDC is waiting on test results from 82 patients in the U.S. suspected of having the coronavirus. Nearly 170 people have tested negative. However, the CDC noted those who initially test negative could get sick later.

Travelers also are getting their first taste of rules President Trump ordered up to thwart the virus from spiraling out of control. Americans and eligible foreign nationals who have traveled from China’s Hubei province in the last 14 days will be directed to 11 U.S. airports and undergo additional health evaluations.

Eligible passengers seeking entry who show symptoms will be mandated to a 14-day quarantine at or near the airport. If they do not show symptoms, they will be transferred for medical assessments and isolated for two weeks.

Americans returning from other parts of China will be screened and “self-quarantined” at home for 14 days.

All flights from China will be funneled through international airports in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Honolulu and Los Angeles. Washington Dulles International Airport and airports in Newark, New Jersey; Dallas-Fort Worth; and Detroit also will be taking passengers traveling from China.

“Our recommendation was that if we acted now we did have the opportunity to provide additional protection to the United States and Americans,” Dr. Messonnier said Monday. “So we made an aggressive decision in front of an unprecedented threat that action now has the biggest potential to slow this thing down.”

As of Monday, China reported 20,438 confirmed infections and 425 deaths in 31 regions on the mainland, according to its National Health Commission.

The Philippines reported the first coronavirus death outside of China on Sunday and is imposing similar travel restrictions as the U.S., along with Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.

Hong Kong reported on Monday it’s first fatality and the second coronavirus death outside of China.

China has opened a makeshift 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan, completing its construction in 10 days. The hospital, which has 1,400 medical staff from the armed forces, began treating patients Monday.

Multiple airlines including Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines are suspending flights from the U.S. to the Chinese mainland.

The State Department is expected to evacuate more people from Wuhan, who will be placed under a federal quarantine that will last two weeks from when planes leave the central Chinese city.

Last week, the CDC issued a 14-day quarantine for the 195 American evacuees who arrived at an air base in California from Wuhan. The order was the first time in about 50 years the CDC issued a quarantine and followed a global health emergency declaration by the World Health Organization on Thursday.

Hua Chunying, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Monday that while Chinese officials understand other countries are adopting or enhancing quarantine measures, the U.S., in particular, has overreacted.

“The U.S. government hasn’t provided any substantive assistance to us, but it was the first to evacuate personnel from its consulate in Wuhan, the first to suggest partial withdrawal of its embassy staff, and the first to impose a travel ban on Chinese travelers,” Mr. Hua said. “What it has done could only create and spread fear, which is a very bad example.”

The CDC’s Dr. Messonnier has said she would rather the U.S. be remembered for overreacting than underreacting. She also said the CDC anticipates sending staff to China to assist with the outbreak.

As the outbreak continues to escalate, Chinese authorities extended the Lunar New Year holiday break later into February to help contain the virus. All schools in the Hubei province are postponing the start of the new semester until further notice.

“This is a horrible situation in China,” Dr. Messonnier said. “Our hearts go out to those individuals who are suffering through this.”

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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