In a virtual town hall, Trump says U.S. economy must reopen 'safely but as quickly as possible'
ROME (AP) — While millions of people took advantage of easing coronavirus lockdowns to enjoy spring weather, some of the world's most populous countries reported worrisome new peaks in infections Sunday, including India, which saw its biggest single-day jump yet.
Second in population only to China, India reported more than 2,600 new infections. In Russia, new cases exceeded 10,000 for the first time. The confirmed total death toll in Britain climbed near that of Italy, the epicenter of Europe's outbreak, even though the U.K. population is younger than Italy's, and Britain had more time to prepare before the pandemic hit.
The United States continues to see tens of thousands of new infections each day, with more than 1,400 additional deaths reported Saturday.
Health experts have warned of a potential secondwave of infections unless testing is expanded dramatically once the lockdowns are relaxed. But pressure to reopen keeps building after the weekslong shutdown of businesses worldwide plunged the global economy into its deepest slump since the 1930s and wiped out millions of jobs.
At a virtual town hall Sunday night, President Donald Trump acknowledged that some Americans are worried about getting sick while others are concerned about losing jobs.
Though the administration's handling of the pandemic, particularly the ability to conduct widespread testing, has come under criticism, the president defended the response and said the nation was ready to begin reopening.
"We have to get it back open safely but as quickly as possible," Trump said.
The president fielded questions from Americans in the town hall broadcast from the Lincoln Memorial and hosted by Fox News Channel.
While Trump increased his projection for the total U.S. death total to 80,000 or 90,000 — up by more than 20,000 fatalities from what he had suggested just a few weeks ago — he struck a note of urgency to restart the nation's economy, saying "we have to reopen our country."
After more than a month of being cooped up at the White House, Trump returned from a weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland for the town hall. He will also begin traveling again, with a trip to a mask factory in Arizona planned for Tuesday.
Many public health experts believe the nation cannot safely reopen fully until a vaccine is developed. Trump declared Sunday that he believed one could be available by year's end.
U.S. public health officials have said a vaccine is probably a year to 18 months away. But Dr. Anthony Fauci said in late April that it is conceivable, if a vaccine is soon developed, that it could be in wide distribution as early as January.
"I'll tell you one thing. We did the right thing and I really believe we saved a million and a half lives," the president said. But he also broke with the assessment of his senior adviser and son-inlaw, Jared Kushner, saying it was "too soon to say" the federal government had overseen a "success story."
Trump noted that states would go at their own pace in returning to normal, with ones harder hit by the coronavirus going slower, but he said that "some states, frankly, I think aren't going fast enough." He singled out Virginia, which has a Democratic governor and legislature. And he urged the nation's schools and universities to return to classes this fall.
Federal guidelines that encouraged people to stay at home and practice social distancing expired late last week.
Debate continued over moves by governors to start reopening economies that tanked after shopping malls, salons and other nonessential businesses were ordered closed in an attempt to slow the virus
'PAUSE' ON RELIEF SPENDING
Larry Kudlow, Trump's top economic adviser, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the administration would "pause" to review the effectiveness of trillions in economic relief spending before making any decision on whether additional aid is needed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that state and local governments are seeking up to $1 trillion for coronavirus costs.
The Senate planned to reopen Monday, despite the Washington area's continued status as a virus hot spot and with the region still under stay-at-home orders. The House remains shuttered. The pandemic is forcing big changes at the tradition-bound Supreme Court: The justices will hear arguments, beginning Monday, by telephone for the first time since Alexander Graham Bell patented his invention in 1876.
The leaders of California and Michigan are among governors under public pressure over lockdowns still in effect while states such as Florida, Georgia and Ohio are reopening.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said Sunday that the armed protesters who demonstrated inside her state's Capitol "depicted some of the worst racism" and "awful parts" of U.S. history by showing up with Confederate flags and swastikas.
Despite the opposition of Michigan's Republican-controlled Legislature, Whitmer has extended a state of emergency declaration and directed most businesses statewide to remain closed. Trump on Sunday night singled out her and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, also a Democrat, for criticism even as he praised the federal coordination with most governors.
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx expressed concern about protests by armed and mostly maskless crowds demanding an end to stay-at-home orders and a full reboot of the economy. Trump has encouraged people to "liberate" their states.
"It's devastatingly worrisome to me personally, because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather ... they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives," she said. "So we need to protect each other at the same timewe're voicing our discontent."
If restrictions are lifted too soon, the virus could come back in "small waves in various places around the country," said Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
"Nothing has changed in the underlying dynamics of this virus," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
POTENTIALLY TROUBLING SIGNS
China, which reported only two new cases, saw a surge in visitors to newly reopened tourist spots after domestic travel restrictions were loosened ahead of a five-day holiday that runs through Tuesday. Nearly 1.7 million people visited Beijing parks on the first two days of the holiday, and Shanghai's main tourist spots welcomed more than 1million visitors, according to Chinese media. Many spots limited daily visitors to 30% of capacity.
On the eve of Italy's first steps toward easing restrictions, the Health Ministry reported 174 COVID-19 deaths in the 24-hour period ending Sunday evening — the lowest day-to-day number since the national lockdown began on March 10. Parks and public gardens were set to reopen on Monday.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under pressure to reveal how the country will lift its lockdown. The restrictions are due to last through Thursday, but with hundreds of deaths still being reported daily — twice as many recently as Italy or Spain— it's unclear how the country can safely loosen the restrictions.
Johnson, 55, who spent three nights in intensive care while being treated for COVID-19, told The Sun newspaper that he knew his doctors were preparing for the worst.
"It was a tough old moment, I won't deny it,'' he said. "They had a strategy to deal with a 'death of Stalin'-type scenario'' if he succumbed to the virus.
Another potentially troubling sign emerged in Afghanistan's capital city of Kabul, where a third of the 500 people selected in a random test came up positive for the virus.
Governments have reported that the virus has infected 3.5 million people and killed more than 247,000 worldwide, includingmore than 67,000 deaths in the United States, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.