COVID-19: How US Congress overwhelmingly voted for $8.3bn emergency funding package to fight the coronavirus

The US lawmakers in the House of representative have overwhelmingly voted for a $8.3bn emergency funding package to fight the coronavirus. The move comes as the country reported a total of 11 deaths, including one in California, the first outside Washington state. 

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted nearly unanimously, 415-2, to approve an $8.3bn emergency spending bill to address the threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the US and globally.

The bill will be swiftly taken up in the US Senate and sent to President Donald Trump for his signature by the end of the week, lawmakers said.

"The American people are counting on our government for a fully funded, coordinated and comprehensive government-wide response to the coronavirus," said Representative Nita Lowey, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations.

"We must quickly enact this legislation - lives are at stake," Lowey said.

"We have an emergency," said Representative Fred Upton, a Republican. "I urge all of my colleagues to support this money and get it to the president as quickly as possible."

Members of the House had a closed-door briefing from Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday.

Pence told legislators that Trump would soon be asking US businesses to allow employees to work remotely or take paid leave.

For now, there are no new domestic travel restrictions within the US, and new test kits for the virus are being distributed to individual states. The cost of testing will be covered by government healthcare programmes Medicaid and Medicare as well as private insurance, Pence told lawmakers.

According to a summary provided by the House Committee on Appropriations, the bill will provide:

$2.2bn for public health funding for response and prevention, of which $950m is for state and local health agencies

$1bn for pharmaceutical and medical supplies for hospitals and community medical centres

$3bn for the development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics

$435m for health systems overseas

$300m for humanitarian needs

A potential $7bn in low-interest loans for small businesses

"We listened carefully to the agencies and experts on the front lines in crafting this package," Senator Richard Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, said in a statement.

"I appreciate President Trump's eagerness to sign this legislation," Shelby said.

The spending bill dwarfs Trump's initial request last week for $2.5bn in funds, which the administration sought in the early days of the epidemic to curb its potential effects.

More cases have also emerged in New York and Los Angeles with California declaring a state of emergency.

The number of confirmed infections in the US climbed above 129 on Wednesday as doctors and hospitals began to test patients for the virus in at least 15 states. Ten people in Washington State and one person in California have died from the illness.

Meanwhile Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and South Africa have marked their first cases of coronavirus while the biblical Church of Nativity in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank closes due to coronavirus fears.

Globally, more than 95,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the vast majority of them in China where the virus originated late last year.

The country's National Health Commission announced on Thursday that a further 31 people had died from the illness pushing the death toll above 3,000. Also, 80,565 people in China have been infected with the virus according to the World Health Organization, although many have now recovered.

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