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Trump downplays coronavirus outbreak calling risk 'low' in press conference

Donald Trump sought to downplay the possibility of a widespread outbreak of the Coronavirus inside the United States, calling the risk “low” a day after his top health officials signaled the virus inevitably would reach US soil.

The president described his administration as "very, very ready" to deal with the virus, touting a Johns Hopkins University study of countries best prepared to deal with a pandemic. The United States was ranked first, Mr Trump noted.

He did not announce he is naming a czar to oversee the federal government's anti-virus efforts. But he did say "we're bringing in a specialist" who is a State Department employee without naming that person or describing just what he or she will be doing. And he put Vice President Mike Pence "in charge" of the government's efforts, saying his experiences as governor of Indiana on health issues make him qualified to take the lead.

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He did, however, strike a bipartisan tone about funding to fight the Coronavirus. He has pitched a $2.5b emergency funding package, but Senate and House Democrats want as much as $8.5b in emergency dollars to fight it.

"If they want to do more, we'll do more. We don't want to spend too much because we think we've kept it down to a minimum," he said, again downplaying the virus's expected impact inside the US while touting what he and his aides already have done.

Previous presidents have used crises to try to bring the country together, urging them to listen to local, state and federal officials by heeding their warnings and following their preparedness recommendations.

Not Mr Trump, other than signaling he's open to more than just a $2.5b emergency spending package.

At the top of his press conference, Mr Trump credited moves he's made to shut down flights from countries with a large number of Coronavirus cases as helping prevent, so far, an outbreak in the US. He noted he was criticised for doing so, alluding to his critics as being too quick to judge his decision. 

On Wednesday morning, the president blamed the media and Democrats, tweeting that the former is "doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible."

"Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!" he claimed even as his top health officials continued to contend it is only a matter of time before the virus hits on American soil.

The president opted to have his own news conference after growing frustrated with US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials for saying in a Tuesday briefing that the virus definitely would arrive in the United States rather than explaining preparedness plans.

Mr Trump decided against using his rare appearance in the James Brady Briefing Room to name one official to act as a so-called Coronavirus czar. After a report the president was mulling just that earlier in the day, his Department of Health and Human Services secretary told a House committee the president had moved away from the idea.

"I don't anticipate one," Alex Azar said on Capitol Hill, claiming the Trump administration's efforts so far are "working extremely well."

"If it doesn't or there's a need for a change ... that would be for the president to decide," he added as White House aides, as Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere did a tweet, tried to knock down the report.

"The President took decisive action by creating the Coronavirus Virus Task Force a month ago and is pleased with the leadership of @SecAzar to protect the public health," Mr Deere tweeted.

With that, the White House put ample responsibility -- and pressure -- on Mr Azar to head off a widespread outbreak.

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