In Brief

Why did Trump ditch his Easter coronavirus target?

US president shaken by images of body bags lined up at a New York City hospital

Donald Trump has extended nationwide social distancing guidelines for another 30 days, ditching his previous plan for the US to return to normal by Easter. 

The Guardian reports the U-turn came after the president was warned that up to 200,000 Americans could die of the new coronavirus if he followed through with his plan to start reopening the economy in the coming days.

Trump later claimed the warning figure he was given was 2.2 million, saying: “If we can hold that number down... to 100,000, it's a horrible number, maybe even less... we all, all together have done a very good job.”

At a White House press briefing by the Coronavirus Task Force, the president said that measures such as social distancing were “the way you win”, adding that the US “will be well on our way to recovery” by June.

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Predicting that the “peak” of death rates in the US was likely to hit in two weeks, he declared: “Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before victory is won, that would be the greatest loss of all.”

Trump is understood to have changed his mind following a warning from top public health officials, Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx.

Fauci told CNN: “We showed him the data. He looked at the data and he got it right away”, adding that Trump “just shook his head and said, ‘I guess we got to do it’”.

However, the broadcaster adds that it was images from Trump’s own borough in New York City that “seemed to drive home the still-worsening severity of the coronavirus pandemic”.

The New York Times echoes this, reporting that “stark predictions grew even more tangible and harrowing when paired with televised images of body bags lined up at a New York City hospital not far from where President Donald Trump grew up in Queens”.

Elmhurst Hospital in Queens has become “an apocalyptic illustration of a nation in crisis”, CNN reports, with one doctors telling NBC News that the pandemic was ravaging a public hospital that was “already underresourced and underfunded”.

As of Monday morning, there were more than 36,000 known cases of coronavirus in New York City and 790 deaths. Queens and Brooklyn remain the hardest hit boroughs, with nearly 12,000 cases and nearly 6,000 cases respectively.

Trump said: “This is in my community in Queens, New York. I have seen things that I've never seen before.”

CNN notes that just a month ago Trump “was predicting a miracle that would just make the virus go away”, however, even the “serial spinner of his own political realities accepted science's dire truth in ditching an Easter target”.

The ditching of the Easter target marks a second climb-down in 24 hours, after Trump also abandoned his plan to quarantine New York.

The state’s Democract governor, Andrew Cuomo, had dismissed the idea as “preposterous” and “anti-American”.

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