Washington – US President Donald Trump has extended
emergency novel coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions for the United States where
his top scientist warned up to 200 000 people could die, as Africa’s biggest
city readied to go into lockdown on Monday.
The reassessment by Trump, who had previously said
he wanted the country back to work in mid-April, came as Britain and hard-hit
Italy warned measures to prevent the spread of the disease would be in place
for months to come.
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Covid-19 has already killed almost 34 000 people
worldwide, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, with the
number of confirmed cases nearing three-quarters of a million.
As of Sunday, more than 3.38 billion people were
asked or ordered to follow confinement measures, according to an AFP database,
as the virus infects every sphere of life – wiping out millions of jobs,
postponing elections and clearing the sporting calendar.
Trump warned that the US crisis, which has seen a
doubling of infections in only two days, would continue to get worse for some
“The modelling estimates that the peak in
death rate is likely to hit in two weeks,” he said, announcing an
extension of social distancing guidelines until 30 April.
Food bank demand explodes
“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory
before the victory is won.”
The president was speaking after Anthony Fauci, who
leads research into infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health,
said he believed 100 000 to 200 000 Americans could die from the disease, and
millions could be infected.
Officials continued to sound the alarm over medical
shortages, with some bemoaning a system that has states competing for
desperately needed supplies.
READ | Europe, US virus deaths surge as Trump reverses New York lockdown threat
“We’re bidding against one another,” said
Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The human consequences of a shutdown that has seen
huge chunks of the US economy grind to a halt were playing out at food banks in
New York, where organisers say demand has exploded.
“Before, there were 1.2 million people in New
York who needed help for food. Now, there are three times as many,” said
Eric Ripert of City Harvest, a food rescue organisation.
Trump’s re-evaluation of a back-to-normal timeline
came as British officials said life may not return to usual for six months.
The country’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny
Harries said it would be several weeks before doctors could tell if the current
lockdown had slowed the spread of the disease.
“But we must not then suddenly revert to our
normal way of living – that would be quite dangerous. If we stop then, all of
our efforts would be wasted and we could potentially see a second peak.”
She said measures to contain the virus would be
reviewed every three weeks, “probably over the next six months”, or
READ | Trump warns coronavirus shutdown could ‘destroy a country’
In Italy, which has logged a third of global deaths,
the government warned citizens should be ready for a “very long”
lockdown that would only be lifted gradually, despite the economic hardship it
“We are in a very long battle,” said
government medical adviser Luca Richeldi. “Through our behaviour, we save
Yet the strains on Italian society imposed by
measures that might have seemed unimaginable just weeks ago are gradually
starting to show.
The starkest example came when armed police began
guarding entrances to supermarkets in Sicily after reports of looting by people
who could no longer afford food.
Africa’s biggest city, Lagos, was due to join the
global stay-at-home from Monday, with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari
ordering a two-week lockdown.
The measures also apply to the capital Abuja.
READ | Nigeria struggles towards shutdown as virus fears grow
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with some
190 million people, has so far registered just 97 confirmed infections and one
death from Covid-19, but testing has been limited.
Officials have warned that the country risks seeing
an “exponential” rise in cases unless contacts of suspected carriers
are tracked down faster.
Authorities in Lagos, a sprawling megacity of 20
million, had already closed schools, shut non-food shops and restricted
gatherings to limit movement.
Enforcing a total lockdown will be a mammoth
challenge for authorities in a country where tens of millions live in dire
poverty and rely on their daily earnings to survive.
The same holds true for large parts of Africa.
In Benin, President Patrice Talon said his country
could not enforce public confinement because it lacks the “means of rich
Aid groups have warned that the coronavirus toll in
the developed world could pale compared with the devastation it wreaks on
defenceless populations in poor states and war zones such as Syria and Yemen.
Three billion people around the world lack access
to running water and soap, the most basic weapons of protection against the
virus, according to UN experts.
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