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Trump Says Risk of Coronavirus Remains ‘Very Low’ in US, Taps VP Pence to Lead Task Force

In an address from the White House on Wednesday night, President Donald Trump worked to mitigate mounting concerns about the novel coronavirus, assuring Americans that the threat of infection to the U.S. remains “very low.”

“We closed up our borders from flights coming in from certain areas, a lot of people think we should not have done it that early, but it turned out to be a very good thing. Because of the decisions we made, the risk to the American people remains very low. … We’re ready to do whatever we have to do when, if it spreads,” said Trump. “We’re very, very ready for this.”

Trump added that his administration has asked for $2.5 billion from Congress to assist with the coronavirus fight. He said a coronavirus vaccine is being developed “very rapidly.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, said a prototype of a vaccine will likely go to trial within the next two to three months, and could be ready for use within a year to a year and a half.

Trump announced tonight that Vice President Mike Pence has been put in charge of a coronavirus tax force, noting that: “Mike has got a certain talent for this.”

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“I look forward to serving in this role, bringing together all members of the corona task force,” said Pence. “That team has met every day since it was established. My role will be to continue to bring that team together.”

The Trump administration’s assurances come in contrast to comments made during a press briefing on Tuesday by Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s not so much a question of if [the coronavirus will spread to U.S. communities] anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Messonnier told the press. “We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad.”

Asked about Messonier’s comments tonight, Trump said: “I don’t think [the spread of the virus is] inevitable.”

“Whatever happens, we have the best-prepared people in the world,” the president continued. “We are totally ready, willing and able. It’s going to be totally under control. It may get a little bit bigger, it may not get bigger at all. Either way, we are totally prepared.”

During Trump’s press briefing tonight, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, chairman of the coronavirus task force, said that the threat to the U.S. remains low for now, crediting the president’s containment strategy for keeping the number of cases down. However, Azar noted, “the degree of risk continues to change quickly” and he urged Americans to visit the CDC website for safety tips.

CDC Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat concurred with Azar, noting that “it is a really good time for the American public to prepare” and that the CDC does expect to see more cases. She said everyday flu prevention measures, such as washing hands, covering mouths when sneezing and staying home when feeling ill “are really important” in mitigating the spread of the virus.

After a tumultuous few days, the stock market saw a mixed close to the trading day on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average shedding 90 points to 26,990, the Nasdaq Composite up 15 points to 8,980 and the S&P 500 down almost 12 points to 3,116.

Addressing the market meltdown, Trump said he expects a recovery to come.

“Well, the stock market is something I know a lot about,” he said. “I think the stock market will recover. The economy is very strong; the consumer is very strong.”

Nearly 81,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed internationally, with almost 3,000 deaths reported. The virus, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, had remained mostly contained within China’s mainland, but this week there was a significant uptick in cases outside the country, particularly in South Korea and Italy, which fueled Wall Street’s worries. In the U.S., 15 patients have been confirmed — with the fifteenth case reported at tonight’s briefing. The president said he expects that number to soon drop down to five or even one to two. There are also as many as 42 American citizens who contracted the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which had been docked in Japan, said Trump.

“If you can count on the reports coming out of China, that spread has gone down,” said Trump.

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, many fashion and footwear firms with operations in China, including Nike, Skechers and Tapestry, have opted to shutter outposts or reduce operating hours in heavily infected areas. These moves have resulted in lower sales, which could hurt companies’ fiscal year performance. Meanwhile, restrictions on outbound travel in China have also slowed manufacturing and production time lines at a time when workers have been delayed in returning to factories and corporate offices.

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