International: Trump says peak is passed and US to reopen soon

Donald Trump, President of the United States of America
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(BBC) – President Donald Trump says the US has “passed the peak” of new coronavirus cases and predicted some states would reopen this month.

Mr Trump told the daily White House briefing that new guidelines would be announced on Thursday after he had spoken to governors.

“We’ll be the comeback kids, all of us,” the president said. “We want to get our country back.”

The US has nearly 640,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and over 30,900 deaths.

Mr Trump’s comments came after New York City reported a rise in virus fatalities to 10,367.

The president has been at loggerheads with state governors about the timing of easing restrictions and reopening businesses. He has now conceded that his powers are limited to issuing guidelines.

What did Trump say about virus deaths?

“The data suggests that nationwide, we have passed the peak of new cases,” Mr Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden on Wednesday.

“Hopefully that will continue, and we will continue to make great progress.”

The co-ordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, Deborah Birx, said there had been a national decline in confirmed new daily cases from the recorded peak in recent days.

Asked why the US accounted for such a significant proportion of the global coronavirus death toll of more than 137,000, Mr Trump accused other countries of lying about their mortality rate.

“Does anybody really believe the numbers of some of these countries?” he said, naming China.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China must show “full transparency” on coronavirus, during a call with his Beijing counterpart, Yang Jiechi, the Department of State said.

Mr Pompeo has repeatedly accused Beijing of covering up the scale of the outbreak in the early days, which China denies.

What about claims Covid-19 came from a lab?

President Trump said the US was looking into unverified reports that the coronavirus may have emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, rather than in a market in the city.

“I will tell you more and more we’re hearing the story and we’ll see,” Mr Trump said when asked about the claims at his daily briefing.

A Fox News report, attributed to several unnamed sources, suggests that the coronavirus was a naturally occurring pathogen that leaked from a Wuhan facility because of lax safety protocols, infecting an intern, who then transmitted it to her boyfriend.

US media have previously reported that the US embassy in Beijing had raised concerns about safety at two laboratories in Wuhan in recent years.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post said it had obtained cables dating from 2018 warning that one facility was studying bat coronaviruses and looking at the possibility of human transmission, adding that the laboratory had “a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians”.

However Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that US intelligence services believed it was more likely that the virus occurred naturally.

“There’s a lot of rumour and speculation in a wide variety of media… we’ve taken a keen interest in that and we’ve had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that,” he said, adding: “The weight of evidence seems to indicate natural.”

Scientists attempting to trace the source of the outbreak have said that a range of wild animal species could be the host, in particular bats, which harbour a large number of different coronaviruses.

They have been trying to ascertain if the virus that causes the disease Covid-19 originated at a market in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province.

What about an end to the US lockdown?

The Trump administration has previously pencilled in 1 May as a possible date to reopen the nation, but the president said some states may be able to return to normalcy earlier than that.

When questioned about the dangers of reopening too soon, Mr Trump said: “There’s also death involved in keeping it closed.”

He cited mental health issues, saying suicide hotlines were “exploding” as the economy froze.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to lockdown measures and unemployment numbers are at record levels.

Retail sales dropped by 8.7% in March, the biggest decline since tracking began in 1992, according to government data released on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the governors of Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania each issued orders or guidelines that residents should wear face masks as they venture into society in the coming weeks.

“We are going to be getting back to normal – it will be a new normal,” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said large gatherings such as sports events and concerts would probably not be allowed in the city until 2021.

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