US President Donald Trump has prolonged the country’s national shutdown for a month, yielding to public health experts and warning that the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic is yet to come.
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, the Donald Trump claimed that, if his administration keeps the death toll to 100,000, it will have done “a very good job” – an alarming shift from his optimistic forecasts of a few days ago when he said he hoped to restart the economy by Easter.
Trump also impaired his plea for unity by uttering falsehoods, verbally abusing reporters and making incendiary allegations that implied health care workers were stealing masks, without providing evidence.
The extended deadline marked a humbling reversal for the president who, having wasted six precious weeks at the start of the pandemic, more recently complained that the remedy is worse than the problem and floated Easter Sunday as a “beautiful timeline” for reopening big swathes of the country.
The guidelines recommend against big group gatherings and urge older people and anyone with existing health problems to stay at home. People were also urged to work at home when possible and avoid restaurants, bars, non-essential travel and shopping trips.
“The modelling estimates that the peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks,” Trump told reporters, with the toll already at more than 2,400. “Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won. That would be the greatest loss of all.”
He added: “We can expect by June 1st we will be well on our way to recovery.”
The shift came after Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said the US could experience more than 100,000 deaths and millions of infections. Fauci praised the extension as a “wise and prudent” decision.
Trump cited projection models that said potentially 2.2 million people or more could have died had the country tried to “wing it” and not put social distancing measures in place. “I kept asking and we did models,” he said. “These are 2.2 million people would have died.
“And so, if we could hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000 – it’s a horrible number, maybe even less, but to 100,000, so we have between 100 [thousand] and 200,000 – we all together have done a very good job.”
Donald Trump also looked to have been disturbed by scenes at Elmhurst Hospital where he grew up in Queens, New York. “I’ve been watching that for the last week on television,” he said. “Body bags all over, in hallways.”
“I’ve been watching them bring in trailer trucks, freezer trucks, they’re freezer trucks because they can’t handle the bodies, there are so many of them. This is essentially in my community, in Queens; Queens, New York. I’ve seen things that I’ve never seen before.”
Trump had lessened the threat of the coronavirus for weeks and ignored the pleas of his health secretary to investing in testing kits and breathing apparatus. The House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told CNN’s State of the Union this attitude had cost American lives. “The president, his denial at the beginning, was deadly,” she said.