The U.S. now leads the world in coronavirus deaths, a grim milestone passed a day after President Donald Trump said that his “opening our country” task force would start work next week, although he insisted he would not ease current restrictive measures until it was safe to do so.
The virus has as of Saturday killed more than 20,000 people in the United States — for the first time surpassing the toll in Italy.
Trump, who had once set Easter Sunday as the date he hoped people in certain parts of the country might begin to return to work and to pack church pews, said Friday he would continue to listen to health experts on when to reopen the country.
“We’re not doing anything until we know that this country is going be healthy. We don’t want to go back and start doing it over again,” he said.
“I’ve made a lot of big decisions in my life,” the president said. “This is by far the biggest decision of my life because I have to say OK let’s go.”
Trump’s comments were echoed by the World Health Organization, which also warned Friday that a premature lifting of lockdown restrictions could spark a “deadly resurgence.”
While the organization was working with countries on ways to gradually ease lockdowns, doing so too quickly could be highly dangerous, Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“Lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence,” he added. The way down can be as dangerous as the way up if not managed properly.”
America’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci reiterated this point in an interview with CNN on Friday. He said although there were promising signs of declining rates of coronavirus hospitalizations and a lower need for intensive care, “now is no time to back off.”
He added that any timeline for opening-up or easing of measures imposed while the U.S. fights the outbreak would be based on reviewing the data.
Globally, the rest of the world hit a grim milestone on Friday night as the worldwide death toll from coronavirus passed 100,000 people, according to data from John Hopkins University, Global cases have passed 1.7 million.
In Europe, hard-hit Italy extended its country wide lockdown Friday night until May 3, with a limited number of stores re-opening from next week. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also announced the creation of a 17-person task-force that would manage the so-called phase two of the crisis. Analyzing how to re-open businesses and public transport once measures can be eased.
At the Vatican, the lockdown has meant all services related to Easter, will take place in an empty basilica. On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis encouraged Catholic followers in a broadcasted sermon to turn to god during the tragedy of the pandemic and support those who were suffering.
Earlier in the week Spanish lawmakers also voted to extend lockdown measures until April 26, while Ireland on Friday made the same extension decision with restrictions to remain in place until May 5.
In Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s health has improved as he moved from an intensive care unit to a regular hospital ward, ministers urged Britons not to break lockdown restrictions during the Easter holiday weekend. Friday saw the U.K.’s deadliest day with 980 coronavirus deaths in hospitals, higher than the deadliest day in hard-hit Italy, so far 8,958 people in Britain have died from COVID-19.
Elsewhere, in Russia, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin announced in a video address Friday, tighter quarantine measures starting from Monday, which will include special passes to allow those permitted to work to travel in the city.
Other countries, however, are just beginning to contend with the coronavirus. War-torn Yemen reported its first coronavirus case on Friday, with aid groups concerned the conflict-ridden country could provide fertile ground for a wider outbreak.
Tatyana Chistikova, Lidia Sirna and Associated Press contributed.