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US Senate approves $8.3bn emergency funding to fight COVID-19

Washington, March 6 (IANS) The US Senate has overwhelmingly passed an $8.3-billion emergency funding package to respond to the growing cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country and has also sent it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The funding bill passed 96-1 on Thursday, following a similar bipartisan approval by the House of Representatives a day earlier, reports Xinhua news agency.

The bill, negotiated by leaders from both Senate and House appropriations panels, will boost funding for the testing of the virus, support the development of vaccines, as well as lower costs for medical treatments.

The funding agreement came as fears of virus spreading are growing among Americans, with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting 148 cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday, including about 50 cases with no clear source of infection. There have been 11 deaths in the country — 10 in Washington state and one in California.

Senator Richard Shelby, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that the funding package “includes what our experts say they need”.

“It attacks the crisis at the local, state, federal, and international levels,” said Shelby. “And it brings to bear the full resources of the federal government.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted that the bipartisan package “will give the government the resources to keep Americans safe”.

The funding plan is significantly larger than the request from the White House, which initially asked for $2.5 billion to fight the ongoing spread of the disease.

The plan includes nearly $7.8 billion in new funding to combat the spread of the virus at the local, state, national and international levels, and it also authorizes $500 million to allow Medicare beneficiaries to access telehealth programs.

–IANS

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