'This might be bad': US officials finally admit Coronavirus will be a pandemic with schools and businesses forced to close

The CDC has confirmed 53 cases in the US 

Danielle Zoellner
New York
Tuesday 25 February 2020 19:22 GMT
Donald Trump says 'when it gets a little warmer' the coronavirus will 'miraculously go away'

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has outlined what schools and businesses would need to do if the coronavirus reaches pandemic levels, which officials say is likely.

"It's not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country any more but a question of when this will happen," Dr Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters.

Public officials do not know if the spread of the virus will be mild or severe, she added, but Americans should prepare for it to disrupt their daily lives.

"We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad," Dr Messonnier said.

Schools are recommended to consider dividing classrooms into smaller groups or use “internet-based teleschooling" to limit person-to-person contact among students. When it comes to businesses, the official advised for in-person meetings to be replaced by telephone conferences or other "teleworking" options.

Hospitals are encouraged to potentially alter how they triage patients and delay elective surgeries if need be. Communities might also need to postpone mass gatherings to limit contact with others.

The World Health Organisation's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus released a statement on Monday about the growing panic with the coronavirus. The organisation has yet to call the coronavirus a "pandemic", but is prepared for it to reach that stage.

"Our decision about whether to use the word 'pandemic' is based on an ongoing assessment of the geographical spread of the virus, the severity of disease it causes, and the impact it has on a whole society," he said.

"For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this coronavirus and we are not witnessing large-scale disease or death. Does the virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely. Are we there yet? From our assessment not yet."

President Donald Trump spoke about the coronavirus on Tuesday during his trip to India, saying the country was well protected if an outbreak were to occur. “I think the whole situation will start working out,” Mr. Trump said during a news conference.

His administration asked Congress on Monday to authorize $2.5bn in funding to combat the deadly virus, with $1.25bn towards emergency funds and another $1.25bn to federal programs.

Both Republican and Democratic senators have questioned the White House's request for funding to combat the potential pandemic on Tuesday, saying what the administration is asking for won't be enough.

"If you low ball something like this, you'll pay for it later," Alabama Senator Richard Shelby told Mr Trump's top health official, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. The senator said if the threat continued to spread "it could be an existential threat to a lot of people in this country".

Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington said the administration's handling of the coronavirus was "unacceptable".

"We cannot afford to plan on the cheap or at the last minute," she said.

The CDC confirmed 53 cases in the US on Monday evening. A majority of these cases came from the Diamond Princess cruise liner that was recently quarantined off the coast of Japan after an outbreak on the ship. Of the 53 people, 36 of these cases are credited to the cruise ship.

There are a total of more than 80,410 cases worldwide and an estimated 2,711 deaths from the virus.

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