White House expands coronavirus testing as death toll rises

Mike Pence holds press conference on coronavirusImage copyright
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US Vice-President Mike Pence has said that any American can be tested for the coronavirus if ordered by a doctor, as the country’s death toll rises to nine.

Mr Pence, tapped by Donald Trump to lead the US outbreak response, also said that the White House will begin on-camera briefings on the virus.

Some health officials have cast doubts on the government’s response, asking how they could accelerate testing.

There are now at least 129 US patients with Covid-19 in 16 states.

The cases are scattered across the country, with concentrations in Washington state, California, Texas and Nebraska.

As the US outbreak spreads, Mr Pence said the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention would lift existing restrictions on tests and provide new guidelines for speeding up exams for those who fear they are infected.

What do I need to know about the coronavirus?

“When I talked to some state officials, there was a sense that the tests would not be administered to people that were mildly symptomatic,” Mr Pence said. “We’re issuing clear guidance that, subject to doctors’ orders, any American can be tested,” Mr Pence said.

But some question how this promise will be kept, as public health laboratories insist their capacity for processing the tests is restricted.

There is also a question of cost, amid reports of uninsured Americans paying upwards of $1,000 (£780) for a test.

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There have been two reported patients in New York with the virus so far

Since February, the US government has prohibited entry from foreign nationals who have visited China – the epicentre of the outbreak – in the past 14 days.

The US Travel Association said yesterday that it expects international inbound travel to the country to drop 6% between now and May – the largest dip in global visits since the 2008 financial crisis. About 79.3 million international visitors travelled to the US last year.

Authorities have confirmed more than 92,000 cases of the virus worldwide, of which more than 80,000 are in China. More than 3,000 people have died globally, the vast majority in China.

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Media captionMore coronavirus cases in the United States “likely”

The worst-hit country outside China is South Korea, which on Wednesday reported 516 new confirmed infections, bringing the total to 5,328. The country’s death toll stands at 35.

The World Bank has committed $12bn (£9.4bn) in aid for developing nations grappling with the spread of the coronavirus, following warnings that economic slowdowns from the outbreak could push countries into recession.

BBC News

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