U.S. House set to debate $8.3 billion bill to fight coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Legislation aimed at helping control the spread of coronavirus and develop a vaccine for the highly contagious disease is set to begin moving through the U.S. House of Representatives after congressional negotiators on Wednesday struck a deal on its provisions.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump is flanked by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and National Institutes of Health Doctor Kizzmekia Corbett, research fellow at the NIH Vaccine Research Center, as he listens to Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci following a briefing at the Vaccine Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S., March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis

A House Democratic aide said the bill would devote $8.3 billion for a series of government-sponsored initiatives, including expanding testing for the virus, which has been contracted by at least 129 people in the United States.

There have been nine U.S. deaths so far, all of them in the Seattle area.

The House aims to begin debating the measure, which is expected to have White House backing, later on Wednesday with passage possible late in the day.

The Senate would then promptly take up the bill with the goal of sending it to President Donald Trump this week for signing into law.

“We must quickly enact this legislation. Lives are at stake,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey in a statement.

More than $3 billion would be devoted to research and development of coronavirus vaccines, test kits and therapeutics. In a bid to also help control the spread of the virus outside the United States, $1.25 billion would be available for international efforts, the aide said.

The fast-spreading virus that emerged late last year in central China is now in some 80 countries, alarming public health officials and rattling financial markets worldwide.

State and local governments would receive $950 million to support their work in combating the respiratory disease that has killed more than 3,000 worldwide.

The bill includes more than $300 million to help cover the costs of any vaccine for those who cannot afford it, the aide said. It also gives the Department of Health and Human Services authority to ensure vaccines’ affordability in the commercial market.

Republicans and Democrats argued over the details of this provision, which had slowed work on the measure.

Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Editing by Howard Goller and Bill Berkrot

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