WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – United States President Donald Trump on Sunday (March 29) extended his stay-at-home guidelines until the end of April, dropping a hotly criticised plan to get the economy up and running by mid-April after a top medical adviser said more than 100,000 Americans could die from the coronavirus outbreak.
The reversal by Mr Trump, which he said would be disclosed in greater detail on Tuesday, came as the US death toll from the respiratory disease topped 2,460, according to a Reuters tally, with more than 141,000 cases, the most of any country in the world.
“The peak, the highest point of death rate, is likely to hit in two weeks,” Mr Trump told a coronavirus briefing in the White House Rose Garden, flanked by top advisers and business leaders.
“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” he said.
He told Americans: “The better you do, the faster this whole nightmare will end.”
Earlier on Sunday, Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that the pandemic could ultimately kill between 100,000 and 200,000 people in the US if mitigation was not successful.
Since 2010, the flu has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans a year, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 1918-1919 flu pandemic killed 675,000 in the US, according to the CDC.
Dr Fauci softened his dire predictions at the Rose Garden briefing, saying they were based on models that were run to show the worst-case scenario if Americans did not follow stay-at-home directives.
“We feel the mitigation we are doing right now is having an effect,” he said. “The decision to extend this mitigation process until the end of April is a wise and prudent decision.”
Mr Trump’s surprise suggestion that he might order the reopening of the economy by Easter had been greeted with sharp and immediate criticism from state governors still grappling with rising numbers of patients and health systems stretched thin.
The governors of at least 21 states, representing more than half the US population of 330 million, have closed “non-essential businesses” and told residents to stay home.
Asked during the briefing if floating the idea of lifting restrictions by mid-April had been a mistake, Mr Trump called it “just an aspiration” and said he now believed the country could be on its way to economic recovery by June 1.
He also called on Congress to restore the full tax deduction for meals and entertainment in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of a wide-ranging 2017 tax reform measure, Congress eliminated the corporate tax deduction for entertainment expenses, but taxpayers were allowed to continue to deduct 50 per cent of the cost of client business meals.
Mr Trump said he wanted to restore that tax deduction “so companies can send people to restaurants”.
Earlier, he accused hospitals of hoarding ventilators that are in scarce supply across the US as the coronavirus spreads, adding that any hospitals not using the devices must release them.
Mr Trump, whose critics have accused him of trying to deflect blame over his handling of the crisis, did not cite any evidence to back his accusation that hospitals were hoarding the devices. It was also unclear which medical facilities he was referring to.
“We have some healthcare workers, some hospitals… hoarding equipment including ventilators,” he said at the White House following a meeting with corporate executives, including from US Medical Group.
“We have to release those ventilators – especially hospitals that are never going to use them.”
Mr Trump’s remarks came just two days after he invoked emergency powers to require General Motors Co to build much-needed ventilators for coronavirus patients after he accused the largest US automaker of “wasting time” during negotiations.