The World Health Organization has warned the United States has the potential to become the new coronavirus epicenter following a ‘very large acceleration’ in infections.
Over the past 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were from Europe and the United States, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters on Tuesday. Of those, 40 percent were from the United States.
Italy currently has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world with more than 6,000, after abruptly overtaking China – where the outbreak began in late December and 3,281 people have died – late last week.
But the US is on pace to become the new leader after its death toll climbed to 628 on Tuesday, with more than 50,000 cases reported nationwide.
Over the past week, there has been a surge of new cases as testing across the country increases. On Monday alone, more than 11,000 new positive cases were confirmed and 100 new deaths were reported, the largest single-day spike to date.
Seventeen hard-hit states are now in various forms of lockdown as experts say the peak is yet to come and that the current state of crisis will last for another several months, at least.
Asked whether the United States could become the new epicenter, Harris said: ‘We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the US. So it does have that potential.’
‘They [the US] have a very large outbreak and an outbreak that is increasing in intensity,’ she added, noting that she expects large increases in case numbers and deaths globally, which currently stand at 392,780 and 17,159 respectively.
The warning came hours after President Donald Trump said he will reconsider the nation’s social distancing policy within a matter of days and promised America will be open for business ‘very soon’ – despite warnings from medical experts that strict containment measures are still needed.
Trump offered a more concrete timeline on Tuesday, saying that he wants to reopen the economy by Easter on April 12 – just 19 days from now.
Trump announced a new set of policies on Monday meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which included closing restaurants and banning social gatherings with more than 10 people.
But he indicated that he supports a quick return to normal life, citing the economic impact coming from all the businesses being shuttered because of the pandemic.
‘America will, again, and soon, be open for business. Very soon,’ the president said at the daily White House coronavirus briefing.
‘A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. Lot sooner. We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. We’re not going to let the cure be worse than the problem.’
Trump complained about the caution brought by health care professionals, saying he told his team they would close the ‘entire world’.
‘I was telling them, if it was up to the doctors, they would keep it shut down, they would say: “let’s shut down the entire world.” You can’t do that,’ he said.
He doubled down on Tuesday – insisting he could re-open the economy while protecting at-risk populations from the coronavirus .
‘Our people want to return to work,’ Trump wrote on Twitter. ‘They will practice Social Distancing and all else, and Seniors will be watched over protectively & lovingly. We can do two things together. THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM! Congress MUST ACT NOW. We will come back strong!’
Hours later, he disclosed his goal to have a return to normal by Easter Sunday.
‘I’d love to have it open by Easter. I will tell you that right now,’ Trump told Fox News on Tuesday during a virtual town hall.
‘It’s such an important day for other reasons, but I will make it an important day for this. I would love to have the country opened up, and they are just raring to go, by Easter.’
‘I think it’s possible. Why isn’t it? We’ve never closed the country before,’ he added. ‘We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off.’
Trump’s comments were met with outcry from medical experts including Tom Inglesby, a director at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Inglesby warned coronavirus will ‘spread widely, rapidly, terribly and millions could die’ if Trump lifts lockdowns in the United States early.
Trump, however, has argued a bad economy could also cause death.
‘You have almost 160 million jobs in this country now, by far the most ever. The number of jobs, almost 160 million, so we can’t turn that off and think it’s going to be wonderful.
‘There’ll be tremendous repercussions. There will be tremendous death from that. You’re talking about death. Probably more death from that than anything we’re talking about with respect to the virus.’
Some experts have predicted the US could experience up to 20 percent or 30 percent unemployment because of the coronavirus.
The rising tensions between Trump and medical experts came as:
- Seventeen states have issued stay-at-home orders affecting some 187 million Americans: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia
- Governor Andrew Cuomo slammed Trump for only sending only 400 ventilators when New York needs 30,000, telling the president: ‘You choose the 26,000 who die’
- Trump demanded that Congress approve its proposed $2trillion bailout today after venting on Twitter that Democrats are holding up deal
- US airlines are believed to be working on plans for a complete shutdown of all passenger flights across the country as air-traffic control systems begin to feel the effects of coronavirus
- New York state is expected to begin trials for hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug touted as a potential ‘miracle’ coronavirus treatment