U.S. President Donald Trump has said he would make a “major” announcement on economic measures to help offset the negative consequences of the spread of the new coronavirus.
The measures, to be unveiled on Tuesday, could include a possible payroll tax cut and assistance to hourly wage earners.
Trump told reporters he was also considering loans to small businesses and would be working with airlines, cruise ship companies, and hotels.
The president said the announcement would be made after his meetings with lawmakers in Congress, where the measures would require bipartisan consensus.
In addition there are plans for White House meetings with hospitals, healthcare and insurance companies.
“The main thing is that we are taking care of the American public,” Trump said in the White House briefing room.
His remarks came amid increased pressure on the White House, with the S&P 500 index down more than 18 per cent off highs reached in February and concern for businesses, major industries and workers who can be at risk of missing paychecks.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he, the Federal Reserve, regulators and other agencies, would use “all our tools” to shore up the economy and insisted current events were “not like the financial crisis” of 2008.
He said the “primary focus” would be the parts of the economy most impacted by the virus, noting that that included workers who would not be able to go to their jobs.
Trump left the White House briefing without answering questions about his own health after several Republican members of Congress he spent time with in recent days entered self quarantine.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters he did not know if the president had been tested for the virus, but assured them he would try to find out.
Pence also said the 21 people infected with the novel coronavirus aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, which docked in northern California on Monday, were being dealt with “in proper isolation”.
Some 3,500 passengers and crew from 54 countries were stuck on the vessel that had been idling off the coast since Wednesday as screening was carried out, after a patient who had earlier travelled on the ship died of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
Pence, who heads the federal government’s coronavirus task force, said he hoped California residents would disembark before the end of the day, while foreign passengers were being repatriated.
The remaining passengers will be transported to military bases in Texas and Georgia on Tuesday for quarantine, he said.
The crew will be quarantined and observed on the ship, which will push off from the port of Oakland once guests have disembarked.
Pence said 25 children that had been on the vessel were all healthy.
Trump on Friday said he would “rather have the people stay” on the ship, adding “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship.”
His administration has come under criticism for sending conflicting messages on the outbreak and failing to prepare adequately for its arrival.
The number of cases of the virus are growing around the U.S., with an interactive map assembled by Johns Hopkins University putting the country’s tally at more than 600 and 22 deaths.
Several states, including New York and California, have declared a state of emergency in response to the outbreak.
Another cruise ship, the Caribbean Princess, is being held off the coast of Florida as coronavirus testing is carried out, according to operator Princess Cruises.
The deadly virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December and has spread across the globe, with more than 110,000 cases confirmed worldwide.