Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate on Wednesday agreed to an $8.3 billion emergency funding bill to help fight the coronavirus.
Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on the bill this week before sending it to President Trump’s desk for signing before the end of the week. The funding package is more than three times the $2.5 billion the White House requested last week.
The package will carve out $3 billion for the research and development of vaccines, while $3.1 billion would be set aside for medical supplies and health-care preparedness as part of a social services emergency fund. While the majority of the funding is dedicated to fight the COVID-19 domestically, $1.3 billion also has been earmarked for the State Department to help combat the outbreak in other countries.
Other components of the package include a provision allowing for low-interest Small Business Administration loans for U.S. firms impacted by the outbreak. And it includes $300 million to ensure vaccine affordability, according to Eric Assaraf, who tracks U.S. macro policy at Cowen Washington Research Group.
The funding package follows moves overseas to help combat the virus’ spread in poor nations and emerging markets. On Monday, the World Bank announced a $12 billion program in emergency financing aimed at helping the poorest and most at-risk nations, either to provide emergency funding or technical assistance. And on Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund unveiled a $50 billion aid package, most of which will be interest free.
IMF is already in the process of “reviewing country by country what are the financial needs and engaging with these countries to make sure they are aware of this resource,” Kristalina Georgieva, IMF’s managing director, said on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” Wednesday. IMF is working with the World Bank to determine how to help countries obtain medical supplies and equipment to fight the virus, she added.
So far, there are at least 94,250 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide across all six continents, and more than 3,000 deaths attributed to the virus. COVID-19 originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, but now more new cases of infection are popping up outside of China than within, and South Korea at the moment appears to be the new ground zero.
Separately, the FDA said about 1 million coronavirus tests should be available by the end of the week.
Despite battling the virus for about eight weeks, there’s still much that scientists don’t know about it. As of Wednesday morning, there are reports that Chinese scientists at Peking University’s School of Life Sciences and the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai believe the virus has already mutated at least once, meaning that right now there are two strains of the new novel coronavirus.
As first reported by CNBC, the more aggressive version was discovered during the initial stages of the outbreak in Wuhan. More recent infections appear to be caused by the second strain, but additional study and data is needed to better understand how the disease is evolving.
The coronavirus epidemic has impacted the global supply chain, and driven many economists to lower global economic growth projections for 2020. On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve cut the interest rate for inter-bank lending as a move to help stabilize the U.S. economy and prop up economic growth.