IMF, World Bank funds ready to fight virus outbreak: spokesman

No country has yet asked the World Bank or International Monetary Fund for financial assistance to fight the coronavirus outbreak that began in China

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank are ready to provide countries in need with immediate emergency funding to fight the coronavirus outbreak, a spokesman said on Thursday.

While they have yet to receive a request for aid, the institutions "have now developed contingency plans. We have various financial instruments that could be used," IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said at a press conference.

As the epidemic has spread beyond China, shuttering production and closing schools in Japan, economists are increasingly worried about a slowdown in the global economy.

"We have various financial instruments that could be used to support countries with balance of payment problems that arise from epidemics or natural disasters," Rice said, noting that the lenders rapidly deployed funds during the Ebola epidemic.

He singled out China, saying the IMF remains "very supportive" of the country where the coronavirus outbreak started with efforts to tackle its spread.

The fund and the World Bank expect to make a decision soon on whether to hold their spring meetings in Washington.

Thousands of people attend the twice-yearly gatherings, which attract activists, economists and investors as well as officials and reporters.

The planning for the April meeting is "under active review," Rice said, but he added, "We are confident that, whatever the format of the spring meetings will be, that we will have effective meetings... and dialogue with our membership."

The US Centers for Disease Control warned this week that the epidemic will reach American shores, and urged organizations to cancel mass gatherings.

Health officials on Wednesday announced they'd found the first case of the virus of unknown origin in the United States.