27 March, 2020
BEIJING/ NEW YORK: The US now has more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any other country with more than 83,500 positive tests.
According to the latest figures collated by Johns Hopkins University, the US has overtaken China (81,782 cases) and Italy (80,589) but with 1,200 Covid-19-related fatalities, the US death toll lags behind China (3,291) and Italy (8,215).
The grim milestone came as President Donald Trump predicted the nation would get back to work “pretty quickly”.
Asked about the latest figures at a White House briefing on Thursday afternoon, President Trump said it was “a tribute to the amount of testing that we’re doing”.
Vice-President Mike Pence said coronavirus tests were now available in all 50 states and more than 552,000 tests had been conducted nationwide.
Trump also cast doubt on the figures coming out of Beijing, telling reporters: “You don’t know what the numbers are in China.”
He said he would speak to President Xi Jinping by phone on Thursday night, but denied the Chinese leader had asked him to “calm down” the language he uses to refer to the pandemic, which the US leader refers to as “the Chinese virus”.
Trump has set a much-criticised goal of Easter Sunday, 12 April, for reopening the country. That plan seemed to gather impetus on Thursday as it emerged an unprecedented 3.3 million Americans have been laid off because of the virus.
At Thursday’s briefing, he said: “They [the American people] have to go back to work, our country has to go back, our country is based on that and I think it’s going to happen pretty quickly.
“We may take sections of our country, we may take large sections of our country that aren’t so seriously affected and we may do it that way.”
He added: “A lot of people misinterpret when I say go back – they’re going to be practising as much as you can social distancing, and washing your hands and not shaking hands and all of the things we talked about.”
He promised more details next week.
In a letter to state governors on Thursday, Trump said his team plans to release federal social distancing guidelines that may advise some regions to loosen restrictions.
He said the “new guidelines” would create low, medium and high risk zones that would allow the government to advise on “maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures they have put in place”.
On Thursday night, Trump phoned in to Fox News host Sean Hannity’s program and said he thinks Iowa, Idaho, Nebraska and parts of Texas could reopen earlier than other states.
The plan emerged as new research on Thursday estimated Covid-19-related deaths in the US could top 80,000 over the coming four months.
As many as 2,300 patients could die every day during the epidemic peak, set for some point in April, even if people observe strict social distancing, according to the study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said statewide quarantine orders may not have been the best approach to coronavirus.
“Young people then quarantined with older people were probably not the best public health strategy,” he told a press conference, “because the younger people could have been exposing the older people to an infection.”
Cuomo said a better way forward might be a “get-back-to-work strategy” in tandem with a public health strategy.
Public health experts on the White House task force have demurred when asked about reopening the country by Easter, suggesting the timeline should be “very flexible”. (Int’l Monitoring Desk + Agencies)