US President Donald Trump (Reuters-Yonhap)
WASHINGTON (AFP) -- President Donald Trump will make a primetime address Wednesday on the coronavirus crisis, his latest attempt to counter criticism of his response to the growing health and economic fallout from the pandemic.
"I'll be making a statement later on tonight as to what I have decided to do," Trump told reporters at the White House. It was scheduled from the Oval Office for 9:00 pm (0100 GMT).
Trump said he would explain his plan for tackling both the health crisis, as the virus rapidly multiplies, and economic assistance.
He is expected to announce short-term tax breaks or other forms of relief for individuals, as well as a stimulus package to help the economy from entering a negative spin that some fear could end in recession.
He did not answer reporters' questions about whether he was planning to impose new travel restrictions. Earlier, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said a ban on travelers from Europe was being "considered."
Trump also did not say if he would meet demands from some lawmakers on declaring a national state of emergency, which would free up federal disaster funds.
The president has taken fire for what critics say is a slow response to the spread of the virus, which gives flu-like symptoms and has claimed more than 4,500 lives worldwide. He has repeatedly played down the threat, initially claiming that only a handful of Americans were at risk.
As of Wednesday, there were more than 1,100 confirmed cases and 32 deaths in the United States, according to a tally collated by Johns Hopkins University, with numbers expected to skyrocket once more testing is done.
'Going to get worse'
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said COVID-19 was estimated to be 10 times more deadly than flu and that without aggressive containment and mitigation, "many millions" could potentially contract the virus.
"The bottom line: it's going to get worse," Fauci said.
There is also acute economic damage, with stock markets tanking on fears of recession, multiple cultural and sporting events cancelled, schools and universities closing, and companies scrambling to face the probability of sending many employees home on sick leave or self-quarantine.
Even the US presidential election faces disruption, with Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders canceling rallies and questions mounting over the future of Trump's own usually frequent rallies.
For Trump, steadying market jitters is a must if he is to maintain his reelection message of delivering a booming economy.
At a White House meeting with US bank leaders, Trump said "we'll be doing a lot of additional work with small businesses..., many billions of dollars."
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier that the White House was "looking at providing substantial relief to certain taxpayers and small businesses who will be able to get extensions on their taxes."
"We think we can provide over $200 billion of liquidity into the economy by delaying certain tax payments," he said.
Democratic leaders are cool on the idea of tax cuts and made a competing proposal for compensating workers' lost wages and sick leave, as well as providing loan forgiveness for individuals.
The Democratic proposal also called for disaster loans and grants for small businesses, emergency housing assistance, and loosened requirements for food assistance including continuing to serve meals to children even if schools are closed. (AFP)