US opens coronavirus push with aid to Laos

Medical personnel wearing protective suits wait at a residential estate in Hong Kong after two people in the block were confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus

The United States said Monday it had provided health supplies to Laos in the first delivery from a pledge of up to $100 million in global assistance to fight the coronavirus.

The US Agency for International Development said it handed over equipment including 440 protective goggles and 1,500 surgical gowns to Laos, which borders China, the epicenter of the fast-spreading virus.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday promised up to $100 million in aid to China and other affected countries to counter the virus that has killed more than 900 people.

Jim Richardson, the State Department's director of foreign assistance resources, said the Laos delivery was the first and that funding would primarily aim at containing the coronavirus.

"You'll start seeing more announcements as we start tallying up how much assistance is needed," he told reporters.

The assistance comes even as President Donald Trump's administration looks to slash funding in support of global health efforts, which include projects to fight disease and encourage maternal health.

A budget proposal released Monday, but which has already met fierce opposition in Congress, would cut global health spending by nearly half to just under $6 billion in the 2021 fiscal year.

Richardson said that Laos -- along with Pacific island states, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea -- were considered priorities in the budget as the United States hopes to show an alternative to an increasingly assertive China.