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Trump warns China could face ‘consequences’ over pandemic

NEW YORK: A woman wearing a mask walks in the almost deserted Central Park in Manhattan in New York City. – AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has warned that China could face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible” for the coronavirus pandemic. “It could have been stopped in China before it started and it wasn’t,” Trump told reporters at a White House briefing. “And now the whole world is suffering because of it.”

Trump was asked whether China should suffer consequences over the pandemic which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December and has left more than 157,000 people dead around the world. “If they were knowingly responsible, certainly,” he said. “If it was a mistake, a mistake is a mistake. “But if they were knowingly responsible, yeah, then there should be consequences,” Trump said. “Was it a mistake that got out of control or was it done deliberately?” he asked. “That’s a big difference between those two.

“In either event they should have let us go in,” he said. “We asked to go in early. And they didn’t want us in. I think they knew it was something bad and they were embarrassed.” “They said they’re doing an investigation,” the president continued. “So let’s see what happens with their investigation. But we’re doing investigations also.” The Trump administration has said it doesn’t rule out that the novel coronavirus was spread – accidentally – from a laboratory researching bats in Wuhan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian – who previously alleged that the US military may have brought the virus into China – has rejected US media reports on the subject and said there is “no scientific basis.” Trump also cast doubt on official Chinese figures showing the country has suffered just 0.33 deaths per 100,000 people. “The number’s impossible,” he said. “It’s an impossible number to hit.” The United States, according to a chart displayed at the briefing, has had 11.24 deaths per 100,000 people while France has had 27.92 and Spain 42.81.

Stay-at-home frustration
Demonstrations to demand an end to stay-at-home measures that have pummeled the US economy have spread to Texas as the governor at the epicenter of the US coronavirus crisis said his state of New York may finally be past the worst. New York, which has recorded nearly half the country’s deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the highly infectious virus, on Saturday reported 540 coronavirus-related deaths for April 17, down from 630 a day earlier and the lowest daily tally since April 1.

The number of patients in the state requiring intensive care and ventilators to help them breathe was also down. “If you look at the past three days, you could argue that we are past the plateau and we’re starting to descend, which would be very good news,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in his daily briefing. Some 2,000 people were still being hospitalized with COVID-19 every day, Cuomo said, and he noted 36 of the latest New York deaths occurred at nursing homes, which have been ravaged by the pandemic nationwide.

In neighboring New Jersey, both the number of new hospitalizations and new coronavirus cases were also slightly down from the day before, Governor Phil Murphy said. But he added: “We are not out of the woods, we have not yet plateaued.” Illinois reported 125 new coronavirus deaths and an additional 1,585 cases but said the growth rate was slowing. Murphy said he had a “concerning” call with Senate minority leader and fellow Democrat Chuck Schumer, who told him there was no momentum in the US Congress for direct aid to states whose economies were suffering from the stay-at-home orders aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

Without federal aid, the state will see “historic” layoffs, he said. More than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past month as closures of businesses and schools and severe travel restrictions have hammered the economy. But an influential research model said late on Friday the strict adherence to the orders imposed in 42 of the 50 US states was a key factor behind an improved outlook for the country’s coronavirus death toll.

The University of Washington’s predictive model, regularly updated and often cited by state public health authorities and White House officials, projected the virus would take 60,308 US lives by Aug 4, down 12% from a forecast earlier in the week. The model predicted some states may be able to begin safely easing restrictions as early as May 4.

Many have already started pushing back against the measures. Governor Murphy chastised an official in Atlantic County, home to Atlantic City, for expressing frustration in a Facebook post over the effect of the closures on the casino-dependent local economy. County surrogate Jim Curcio said his comments were his personal opinion. “I’ve lived here all my life and when we go into a recession here we seem to be the last to come out of it and people suffer terribly and the most vulnerable suffer the most,” Curcio told Reuters on Saturday. “What is happening to the private sector is my breaking my heart.”

On Saturday, several dozen protesters gathered in the Texas capital of Austin chanting “USA! USA!” and “Let us work!” In Brookfield, Wisconsin, hundreds of demonstrators cheered as they lined a main road and waved American flags to protest at the extension of that state’s “safer at home” order. Earlier in the week, scattered protests erupted in the capitols of Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia. The demonstrators mostly flouted the social-distancing rules and did not wear the face masks recommended by public health officials.

As of Friday night, New York has mandated the statewide wearing of masks for anyone out in public and unable to practice social distancing. Republican President Donald Trump appeared to encourage protesters with a series of Twitter posts on Friday calling for them to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, all run by Democratic governors. Trump had touted a thriving economy as the best case for his re-election in November.

Several states, including Ohio, Michigan, Texas and Florida, have said they aim to reopen parts of their economies, perhaps by May 1 or even sooner, but appeared to be staying cautious. Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis reopened some beaches with restrictions from Friday evening, but also said on Saturday that schools will remain closed and continue distance learning the rest of this school year.- Agencies

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