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Trump Faces Threat from Coronavirus

White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow talks with reporters about the impact of the Coronavirus on markets in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump's presidency is facing one of its biggest challenges from the spread of the new coronavirus, which threatens to infect the healthy U.S. economy.

As U.S. stock indexes continued to plunge Friday, the White House national economic director, Larry Kudlow, told reporters that the country's economy remains fundamentally sound, adding, "I don't think people should panic."

Kudlow, who is a member of the administration's newly formed coronavirus task force, said while there is currently no evidence of major supply chain disruptions, "that may be ahead of us."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is poised to record its worst weekly slide since the 2008 financial crisis.

Market analysts say they expect the Federal Reserve, which controls interest rates, to signal action early next week to assuage panic among traders.

Trump has repeatedly complained the Fed has not been aggressive enough in cutting rates.

In response to a question from VOA about what emergency powers the administration possesses to boost domestic production of equipment in short supply, such as N95 respirator masks and other personal protection equipment, Kudlow replied: "I don't want to go into any details on that right now."

The Trump administration is considering invoking special powers through a law called the Defense Production Act to rapidly expand domestic manufacturing of protective masks and clothing to combat the coronavirus in the United States, according to the Reuters news agency.

Targeting media, opposition

Earlier in the day, the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, blamed the media for exaggerating the seriousness of the coronavirus.

"They think this will bring down the president, that's what this is all about," Mulvaney said at the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., on Friday accused members of the Democratic Party of wanting the coronavirus to kill "millions of people," which he told Fox News Channel is a "new level of sickness" by the opposition politicians.

A Democratic congressman, John Garamendi, called Trump Jr's comment "totally outrageous."

Appearing on MSNBC, the lawmaker said: "I can assure you that there's not a Democrat or Republican in Congress that wants anybody to be sick."

Democratic leaders in Congress have harshly criticized the president's response to the coronavirus outbreak.

"The American people need a well-coordinated, whole-of-government, fully-funded response to keep them safe from the coronavirus threat," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the president's news conference Wednesday. "Unfortunately, the Trump administration has mounted an opaque and chaotic response to this outbreak."

COVID-19 numbers

Globally there are more than 83,000 known cases of the viral disease, known as COVID-19, with nearly 2,900 reported deaths.

In the United States, there are more than 60 cases, including the first possible transmission of the coronavirus in the community — a woman in Northern California who is being treated at a hospital in Sacramento.

About half of the U.S. cases are passengers evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan. The vessel had previously visited China, the source of the outbreak.

Hundreds of U.S. nationals have been repatriated from mainland China on State Department-chartered flights. They were then placed in 14-day quarantines on air bases in California.

A whistleblower complaint, according to media reports, alleges federal employees sent to military bases did not follow safety protocols while interacting with those individuals and the government workers subsequently were not tested for COVID-19 before departing the bases and then were sent home on commercial flights.

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