WASHINGTON (AFP) – United States (US) President Donald Trump has extended emergency coronavirus restrictions for the US, where his top scientist warned up to 200,000 people could die.
The reassessment by Trump, who had previously said he wanted the country back to work in mid-April, came as Britain and hard-hit Italy warned measures to prevent the spread of the disease would be in place for months to come.
COVID-19 has already killed more than 33,000 people worldwide, with the number of confirmed cases nearing 700,000.
As of Sunday, more than 3.38 billion people were asked or ordered to follow confinement measures, according to an AFP database, as the virus infects every sphere of life – wiping out millions of jobs, postponing elections and clearing the sporting calendar.
Trump warned that the US crisis, which has seen a doubling of infections in only two days, would continue to get worse.
“The modelling estimates that the peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks,” he said, announcing an extension of social distancing guidelines until April 30. “Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won.”
The president was speaking after Anthony Fauci, who leads research into infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said he believed 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from the disease, and millions could be infected. The US health system is groaning under the weight of new cases.
On Sunday a charity began setting up a field hospital in New York’s Central Park to help take some of the strain off the city’s overwhelmed institutions.
“There’s lots of cases here in New York and a lot of people that need help,” said Elliott Tenpenny, a doctor and team leader for Samaritan’s Purse COVID-19 Response Team. “The hospitals all over the city are filling up and they need as much help as they can get. That’s why we’re here.”
The human consequences of a shutdown that has seen huge chunks of the US economy grind to a halt were playing out at food banks, where organisers said demand has exploded.
Trump’s re-evaluation of a back-to-normal timeline came as Europe’s situation continued to worsen.
Spain logged 838 deaths in a 24-hour period, the third consecutive day it has seen a rise.
“My ICU (intensive care unit) is completely full,” said Eduardo Fernandez, a nurse at Infanta Sofia hospital in Madrid.