As world combats coronavirus, Commerce secretary says it could be good for US jobs

The virus so far has claimed the lives of 170 people in China.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday said the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China -- which has killed at least 170 people thus far -- could be good for bringing jobs back to the United States, as companies review their supply chains and potentially move out of China.

“It's another risk factor that people need to take into account," Ross said in an interview with Fox Business. "So I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America, some to U.S., probably some to Mexico as well."

Hours later, though, the White House's top economic adviser said that coronavirus and job growth were separate issues.

"This is not about trade, jobs or any of that," Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, told reporters at the White House when asked about Ross' comments.

A spokesperson for the Commerce Department said Ross recognized that the "first step is to bring the virus under control and help the victims of this disease."

But they added, "It is also important to consider the ramifications of doing business with a country that has a long history of covering up real risks to its own people and the rest of the world."

President Donald Trump this week formed a task force to lead the U.S. government response to coronavirus, the White House announced Wednesday night.

The meeting on Wednesday was chaired by Trump, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement Wednesday.

"We have the best experts anywhere in the world, and they are on top of it 24/7!" Trump tweeted Wednesday.

Last week, after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the United States, Trump said the situation was "totally under control."

"It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control," the president told CNBC in an interview. "It’s going to be just fine."

Since then, four other cases have been confirmed in the U.S, but the outbreak has hit China the hardest.

The Trump administration this week chartered a flight to evacuate American consulate staffers and private U.S. citizens from the epicenter of Wuhan -- a city in China at the center of the outbreak, and where all five of the U.S. citizens under quarantine traveled.

While more than 7,700 people have been sickened and at least 170 have died in China, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday that the disease is "not spreading" in the U.S.

Trump has praised China and its leader, Xi Jinping, for how they have handled the outbreak.

"China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus," the president tweeted last week. "The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency."

The State Department also raised its travel advisory for China on Monday, urging American citizens to "reconsider travel" to the whole country.

There has been a "do not travel" warning in place since last week for China's Hubei province -- where Wuhan is the capital -- when the consulate general announced it was pulling out all non-emergency personnel.

Airlines in the United States and elsewhere have reduced or cancelled flights from China, and sources told ABC News this week that the White House had not ruled out suspending flights between the U.S. and China.

"I think we're going to watch this very carefully,” National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. "We'll work with our airline partners and keep the American people apprised accordingly."

ABC News' Conor Finnegan, Marc Nathanson, Mina Kaji and Erin Schumaker contributed to this report.

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