WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump announced a news conference from the White House on the coronavirus epidemic Wednesday, with experts warning they expect it to spread in the United States.
"I will be having a News Conference at the White House, on this subject, today at 6:00 P.M." Trump tweeted, adding that officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would attend.
Authorities have urged Americans to develop plans to avoid mass gatherings amid dire warnings that countries are not ready to contain an outbreak that has infected 80,000 people, mostly in China.
Critics, including lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, have expressed growing alarm over the Trump administration's response to the crisis.
Wall Street stocks opened higher after suffering a second straight rout Tuesday, with losses picking up after US health officials warned the epidemic was likely to hit the world's biggest economy.
With cases being reported in more countries - and lockdowns in nations including Austria, Italy and Spain - traders are growing increasingly fearful about the impact on the global economy.
Democrats have pointed to a White House request to Congress for deep cuts to the budgets of science and health agencies such as the National Institutes of Health.
On Monday, the White House sent a request to Congress to make at least US$2.5 billion in funding available for preparedness and response, including developing treatments and vaccines and buying equipment for a strategic national stockpile.
But Trump has not appointed a point person or task force on the crisis, while the global health security expert position on the National Security Council has been left vacant for almost two years.
"INCOMPETENT AND DANGEROUS"
Addressing Trump directly, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tweeted: "It was incompetent and dangerous that: You reduced our ability to prevent epidemics. You proposed cuts to CDC funding.
"You just trusted other governments (like China) to handle this. You can spin this any way you want, but it's incompetence."
The president told reporters in India experts were "very close to a vaccine", forcing White House officials to clarify later that he was talking about Ebola, not the novel coronavirus.
He also understated the number of infections in the US.
White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow also came in for criticism after telling CNBC the virus was "contained" - on the same day the CDC warned that a US outbreak was inevitable.
Meanwhile, Republican Senator John Kennedy grew frustrated with acting Department of Homeland Security head Chad Wolf, who could not answer questions on Tuesday about the mortality rate.
Trump has insisted, however, that his administration is "doing a GREAT job" managing the crisis, blaming the media for trying to stoke fear in a tweet in which he spelled the name of the virus incorrectly.
"Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible," he tweeted, using a derogatory name for cable news network MSNBC that suggests it is connected to the Democratic National Committee.
"Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!"
California congressman and former presidential candidate Eric Swalwell responded, however, that the Democrats wanted nothing more than for Trump to succeed on managing the crisis.
"Because the alternative is your incompetence (and self-serving agenda) leads to a massive outbreak in our country," he tweeted.
"Seriously, don't screw it up."