Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — no stranger to raising eyebrows with his remarks — received fresh criticism after suggesting on Thursday that the deadly coronavirus which originated in China would help the American job market.
Ross, 82, was appearing Fox Business and started off by saying, “Every American’s heart has to go out to the victims of the coronavirus, so I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease.”
But he then began talking about the “help” the virus could bring to American jobs.
“The fact is it does give businesses yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain,” Ross told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. “On top of all the other things, you had SARS, you have the African swine [fever] virus there, now you have this. It’s another risk factor that people need to take into account. 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.”
Ross’ comment soon became fodder for Twitter critics.
“This level of compassion sounds best when you imagine it in the voice of [The Simpsons‘] Montgomery Burns,” one user wrote.
Another cracked: “Between naps, Secretary Wilbur Ross is always looking on the bright side of life. Turns out disease, death, & despair, by virtue of the coronavirus, have an upside, and will ultimately result in accelerated job growth in North America. Perspective, people.”
Some 170 people have died from coronavirus. According to The New York Times, the virus (which began in Wuhan, China, and has now spread to every province within the country) has sickened more than 7,700 in China while 68 other cases have been reported around the world.
There have been six cases reported in the U.S.
A Department of Commerce spokesperson told PEOPLE on Thursday that the first step was helping the victims of the deadly virus — but then they seemed to echo Ross’ statement.
“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,” the spokesperson told PEOPLE. “Fortunately, the Department of Commerce is equipped to support the American people and our businesses to do both.”
The World Health Organization met Thursday and decided to declare the outbreak an international public health emergency.
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Secretary Wilbur Ross on the coronavirus outbreak: "I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America."— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) January 30, 2020
You can't make this stuff up - what a truly vile thing to say.
Between naps, Secretary Wilbur Ross is always looking on the bright side of life. Turns out disease, death, & despair, by virtue of the coronavirus, have an upside, and will ultimately result in accelerated job growth in North America. Perspective, people. pic.twitter.com/M5YZHqInMw— Stephanie Kennedy (@WordswithSteph) January 30, 2020
This level of compassion sounds best when you imagine it in the voice of Montgomery Burns. https://t.co/SkNsLNJ99z— Matt Flinner (@MattFlinner) January 30, 2020
This is how the real-life Hunger Games start https://t.co/3RMJtXPAj6— Khary Penebaker, Fx (@kharyp) January 30, 2020
Big opportunities ahead for gravediggers and Hazmat uniform manufacturers https://t.co/tRZ3ZbLaKN— Jesse Hawken (@jessehawken) January 30, 2020
U.S. retailers such as Amazon have sold out of surgical masks in the wake of the outbreak, however one doctor told PEOPLE that masks won’t do much to protect you from illness — only spreading it.
“If a person is ill and seeking medical care, often a mask will be placed on them — but that’s because if you’re sick, a mask can prevent you spreading it to other people when you cough or sneeze,” said Dr. Angela Hewlett, medical director of the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit. “Wearing a mask when you’re not sick has not been proven to help protect you with this kind of illness.”