President Donald Trump walks after returning to the White House in Washington. File/AP
Bracing the nation for a death toll that could exceed 100,000 people, President Donald Trump on Sunday extended restrictive social distancing guidelines through April, bowing to public-health experts who presented him with even more dire projections for the expanding coronavirus pandemic.
It was a stark shift in tone by the president, who only days ago mused about the country reopening in a few weeks. From the Rose Garden, he said his Easter revival hopes had only been "aspirational.”
The initial 15-day period of social distancing urged by the federal government expires on Monday and Trump had expressed interest in relaxing the national guidelines at least in parts of the country less afflicted by the pandemic. He instead decided to extend them through April 30, a tacit acknowledgment he'd been too optimistic. Many states and local governments have stiffer controls in place on mobility and gatherings.
Trump's impulse to reopen the country met a sober reality check Sunday from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, who said the US could experience more than 100,000 deaths and millions of infections from the pandemic. That warning hardened a recognition in Washington that the struggle against the coronavirus will not be resolved quickly even as Trump expressed a longing for normalcy.
"I want our life back again,” the president told reporters.
Trump, who has largely avoided talk of potential death and infection rates, cited projection models that said potentially 2.2 million people or more could have died had social distancing measures not been put in place. And he said the country would be doing well if it "can hold" the number of deaths "down to 100,000." He said the best case for the country would be for the death rate to peak in about two weeks.
"It's a horrible number," Trump said, but added, "We all together have done a very good job.”
Brought forward by Trump at the outdoor briefing, Fauci said his projection of a potential 100,000 to 200,000 deaths is "entirely conceivable" if not enough is done to mitigate the crisis. He said that helped shape the extension of the guidelines, which he called "a wise and prudent decision.”
Americans are now being called on to prepare for another 30 days of severe economic and social disruption, as schools and businesses are closed and public life is upended. One in 3 Americans remain under state or local government orders to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus.
Trump acknowledged that he may be forced to extend the guidelines again at the end of April, but expressed hope that by June 1, "we should be well on our way to recovery.”
This is one of the most dangerous and idiotic suggestions made so far in how one might actually treat COVID-19," said Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at Britain's University of East Anglia. He said infecting disinfectants would be likely to kill anyone who tried it.
Global deaths stand at over 434,000 and have doubled in seven weeks. Although Brazil's official death toll from the pandemic has risen to nearly 44,000, the true impact is likely far greater than the data show, health experts said, citing a lack of widespread testing in Latin America's largest country.
In a grim new milestones marking the spread of the virus, total deaths across the United States hit 3,017, including at least 540 on Monday, and the reported cases climbed to more than 163,000, according to a Reuters tally.
At least 256,422 people have died of the novel coronavirus since the epidemic surfaced in China late last year, according to an AFP tally. The United States is the worst-hit country, with more than 70,000 deaths, ahead of Britain where fatalities topped 32,000.
Also, additional 2,321 people have recovered from the virus and three people passed away.
The ambulances entered Gaza at the Rafah crossing, which is otherwise closed for five days over the Eid Al Fitr holiday and the weekend and is due to reopen on Monday.
Israeli planes renewed air strikes in Gaza early on Saturday and Hamas militants in Gaza responded by firing rockets into Israel as their battle entered a fifth night.