Trump ditches hopes of quick virus bounce-back for US

March 30, 2020

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - President Donald Trump has extended emergency coronavirus restrictions for the United States where his top scientist warned up to 200,000 people could die, as Africa's biggest city readied to go into lockdown on Monday.

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 almost 34,000 people worldwide, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, with the number of confirmed cases nearing three-quarters of a million.

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 for some time.

"The modeling 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.

Officials continued to sound the alarm over medical shortages, with some bemoaning a system that has states competing for desperately needed supplies.

"We're bidding against one another," said Michigan's Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

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 in New York, where organizers say demand has exploded.

"Before, there were 1.2 million people in New York who needed help for food. Now, there are three times as many," said Eric Ripert of City Harvest, a food rescue organization.

Six months Trump's re-evaluation of a back-to-normal timeline came as British officials said life may not return to usual for six months.

The country's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said it would be several weeks before doctors could tell if the current lockdown had slowed the spread of the disease.

"But we must not then suddenly revert to our normal way of living -- that would be quite dangerous. If we stop then, all of our efforts would be wasted and we could potentially see a second peak."

She said measures to contain the virus would be reviewed every three weeks, "probably over the next six months" or even longer.

In Italy, which has logged a third of global deaths, the government warned citizens should be ready for a "very long" lockdown that would only be lifted gradually, despite the economic hardship it was causing.

"We are in a very long battle," said government medical adviser Luca Richeldi. "Through our behavior, we save lives."

Yet the strains on Italian society imposed by measures that might have seemed unimaginable just weeks ago are gradually starting to show.

The starkest example came when armed police began guarding entrances to supermarkets in Sicily after reports of looting by people who could no longer afford food.

Global divide Africa's biggest city, Lagos, was due to join the global stay-at-home from Monday, with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordering a two-week lockdown.

The measures also apply to the capital Abuja.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with some 190 million people, has so far registered just 97 confirmed infections and one death from COVID-19, but testing has been limited.

Officials have warned that the country risks seeing an "exponential" rise in cases unless contacts of suspected carriers are tracked down faster.

Authorities in Lagos, a sprawling megacity of 20 million, had already closed schools, shut non-food shops and restricted gatherings to limit movement.

Enforcing a total lockdown will be a mammoth challenge for authorities in a country where tens of millions live in dire poverty and rely on their daily earnings to survive.

The same holds true for large parts of Africa.

In Benin, President Patrice Talon said his country could not enforce public confinement because it lacks the "means of rich countries."

Aid groups have warned that the coronavirus toll in the developed world could pale compared with the devastation it wreaks on defenseless populations in poor states and war zones such as Syria and Yemen.

Three billion people around the world lack access to running water and soap, the most basic weapons of protection against the virus, according to UN experts. 

With AFP bureaus