As global deaths pass 100,000, White House adviser also cautions against lifting restrictions
People wear facial masks for protection as they walk their dogs on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York on Friday. Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP
The World Health Organization has warned that a premature lifting of restrictions on peoples’ movements by countries fighting the coronavirus pandemic could spark a “deadly resurgence”, as global deaths from the virus passed the grim milestone of 100,000.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, said it was working with countries on ways in which lockdowns could be gradually eased, but said doing so too quickly could be dangerous.
“I know that some countries are already planning the transition out of stay-at-home restrictions. WHO wants to see restrictions lifted as much as anyone,” he told a virtual press conference in Geneva. “At the same time, lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence. The way down can be as dangerous as the way up if not managed properly.”
America’s top infectious disease expert also cautioned against moves to relax restrictions, echoing calls from other global public health officials but putting him at odds with Donald Trump, who is agitating for a reopening of the coronavirus-battered US economy.
Anthony Fauci said “now is not the time to back off” on restrictions, despite what he described as “favourable signs” in America’s early hotspots.
“We would want to see a clear indication that you were very, very clearly and strongly going in the right direction, because the one thing you don’t want to do is you don’t want to get out there prematurely and then wind up back in the same situation,” the senior adviser to the White House told CNN.
Trump, seemingly concerned by deflating approval ratings and exploding unemployment figures, had told reporters that he hoped to open up the economy “very, very, very, very soon”.
On Friday, the president struck a more emollient tone, saying he would announce next week a council of business and medical leaders to help him with the “biggest decision I’ve ever had to make” on when to reopen America for business.
Trump added: “I want to get it open as soon as possible. This country was meant to be open and vibrant and great … The facts are going to determine what I do. But we do want to get the country open.”
According to a report in the Washington Post, the US president wants to reopen the country next month despite concerns from both economists and health experts that America’s coronavirus pandemic is nowhere near over.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, also warned Trump against trying to get back to normality prematurely. “I would hope that the scientific community would weigh in and say, ‘You can’t do this, it is only going to make matters worse if you go out too soon,’” Pelosi said in an interview with Politico.
US deaths owing to the coronavirus topped 17,000 on Friday, although there were signs that Americans staying home was curbing new infections. More than 7,000 people have died in New York State alone, but its governor, Andrew Cuomo, expressed cautious optimism on Friday that the state’s infection rate was slowing.
In the latest sign of tensions with the US, Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, criticised the Trump administration’s handling of the outbreak as too slow.
In a preview of an interview for Der Spiegel, Maas took aim at the two extremes of national coronavirus responses, contrasting China’s “very authoritarian measures” with America’s decision to play down the threat “for a very long time”.
“These are two extremes, neither of which can be a model for Europe,” Maas said.
A German official last week accused the US of “wild west” tactics in outbidding for or blocking shipments of vital medical supplies, and Maas said he hoped the US would rethink its international relationships in light of the crisis.
In Asia, China weighed in on a growing row between the WHO and Taiwan, accusing Taiwan’s government of “unscrupulously using the virus to seek independence”.
The WHO and Taiwan have been trading accusations in recent days, largely stemming from Taiwan’s continued exclusion from the body’s membership and activities because of lobbying by China, which claims Taiwan as Chinese territory. Earlier this week Tedros said he had been subjected to months of racist attacks which he said were condoned by Taiwan. Taiwan says the accusations are groundless and has demanded an apology.
In Europe, Italian newspapers reported that the government was poised to extend confinement measures due to expire on 13 April to 3 May. Officials are using helicopters, drones and stepped-up police checks to make sure people don’t slip out of their homes over the Easter holiday.
Spain’s lockdown, which came into force on 14 March, will also remain in place, its health minister said on Friday. But some non-essential workers will begin returning to their jobs on Monday at the end of a two-week freeze on all non-vital economic activity, despite warnings that the relaxation of the strict confinement policy could drive a rise in contagion.
In other developments:
- The first confirmed case was announced in war-torn Yemen, stoking fears of an outbreak that could devastate its already crippled healthcare system.
- In the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, there was a crush as people desperate for food because the coronavirus restrictions have kept them from making a living pushed through a gate at a district office in the Kibera slum.
- Fifty crew aboard France’s only aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, tested positive and parts of the ship have been put in lockdown. An armed forces’ ministry statement said that three sailors had been evacuated by air to a military hospital in Toulon on the south coast, the home port of the carrier. The aircraft carrier, which is equipped with its own intensive care facilities, has 1,760 personnel on board.
- A Yanomami teenager became the first indigenous person to die from the virus in Brazil. Meanwhile the country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, one of only a handful of global leaders still denying the virus threat, was booed and jeered in the capital, Brasília, after he went to a bakery for a doughnut.