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Administration to give Senate briefing on coronavirus

Senators are set to hear from top federal health officials Friday regarding the outbreak of the new coronavirus originating in China.

The administration’s briefing will be jointly hosted by the Senate Health and Foreign Relations committees, the panels said in a joint statement on Thursday.

“The novel coronavirus is an emerging public health threat. Senators will have the opportunity to hear directly from senior government health officials regarding what we know about the virus so far, and how our country is prepared to respond as the situation develops,” Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said.

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Earlier on Thursday, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, asked the departments of Health and Human Services and State for answers on their responses to the virus, which was officially detected in the United States for the first time last week, after infecting more than 500 people in China and killing at least 17. 

The risk to the broader American public is considered low, but the situation is still evolving.

Chinese authorities have responded by locking down three cities with a combined population of about 18 million people, including the transit hub of Wuhan, where the outbreak is thought to have originated.

The State Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory for China earlier Thursday, urging people to seek medical help if they feel sick after traveling in the affected area. 

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Thursday declined to declare a public health emergency over the virus, but said it recognizes the potential danger for China if it continues spreading. 

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