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27 Feb, 2020 01:33

Trump appoints VP Pence to lead coronavirus response, says US ‘totally prepared’

Trump appoints VP Pence to lead coronavirus response, says US ‘totally prepared’

US President Donald Trump brushed off concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus spreading in the US, saying containment measures so far have been very effective but that his government is also fully prepared if they fail.

Holding a press conference at the White House on Wednesday evening, shortly after returning from India, Trump told Americans not to panic and argued that the measures he ordered – including travel restrictions on China, where the virus originated – have successfully kept the US safe.

He put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of coordinating the government’s response to the coronavirus, designated COVID-19 by the World Health Organization.

“I don’t think it’s inevitable” that the virus will spread, the president told reporters. “Whatever happens, we’re totally prepared. We have the best people in the world.”

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The press conference followed remarks from the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday that Americans should prepare for “severe” disruptions when the virus spreads, and a plunge of all major stock exchanges so far this week.

Trump chalked up the market disruptions to justified concerns over supply chains in China being affected by quarantine there, but also blamed it on fears of economic policies championed by his Democrat critics in their primary debates. He also accused the Democrats of trying to create a panic when there was no reason for one.

“We should all be working together,” he said. “This isn’t about a political advantage, we’re all trying to do the right thing.”

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Trump brought up the criticism he faced when he closed off travel to China earlier this month, noting that Democrats called him racist because of it. The end result was only 15 or so COVID-19 cases in the US – not counting the 45 people that contracted it in Wuhan, China or on the poorly quarantined cruise ship 'Diamond Princess.' Of those 15 cases, only one patient is in bad shape, while others are recovering, the president said.

Trump allowed for the possibility that the virus might spread with his usual “we’ll see what happens,” but repeated that the best prevention was treating this as a more dangerous form of seasonal flu: washing hands, not sneezing at people, and so on.

This is going to end. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.

Since appearing in December 2019 in China’s Hubei Province, COVID-19 has infected 78,190 people in China, of which 2,718 have died, according to WHO data. As of Wednesday morning, there were an additional 2,790 cases and 44 deaths in 37 other countries. The WHO has described COVID-19 as “having potential” to become a pandemic, but has stopped short of using that designation just yet.

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