Coronavirus: US could become new epicentre of outbreak amid ‘very large acceleration’ in cases, WHO warns

Over 46,000 infections and 530 deaths recorded, putting America on course to overtake Italy in number of cases

Samuel Osborne
Tuesday 24 March 2020 11:25 GMT
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The United States could become the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak after a “very large acceleration” in the number of cases, a spokesperson for the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

Over the last 24 hours, 85 per cent of new cases were in Europe and the United States, Margaret Harris told reporters. Of those, 40 per cent were from the US.

Asked whether the US could become the new epicentre, Ms Harris told reporters: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the US. So it does have that potential.”

“... They [the US] have a very large outbreak and an outbreak that is increasing in intensity,” she added.

Overall, the Covid-19 outbreak was accelerating very rapidly and Ms Harris said she expected large increases in case numbers and deaths from the 334,981 infections and 14,510 deaths reported.

It appears likely the US, which has more than 46,000 infections and 530 deaths, will overtake Italy in the number of positive cases.

Authorities have suggested the US is on track to eventually overtake China’s nearly 82,000 infections.

It comes as Donald Trump, the US president, acknowledged the difficulty in procuring crucial healthcare supplies amid the pandemic, saying the “world market... is crazy” and it “is not easy” for the federal government help US states obtain face masks and ventilators.

Mr Trump also said he wanted to reopen the country for business in weeks, not months, and claiming – without providing evidence – that continued closures could result in more deaths than the pandemic itself.

“We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem,” Mr Trump told reporters at a briefing Monday. “We have to open our country because that causes problems that, in my opinion, could be far bigger problems.”

Health experts have made it clear that the number of infections will overwhelm the health care system in the US unless Americans continue to dramatically limit social interaction by staying home from work and isolating themselves.

“Life is fragile, and economies are fragile,” Mr Trump said, insisting he could protect both.

While acknowledging there were trade-offs — “there’s no question about that” — he claimed that, if closures stretch on for months, there would be “probably more death from that than anything that we’re talking about with respect to the virus.”

When asked about easing federal recommendations urging Americans to limit social contact, Mr Trump replied: “I’m not looking at months, I can tell you right now.”

He said states with large numbers of cases could continue to enforce stricter measures while other parts of the country return to work.

Mr Trump tweeted he would be waiting until the end of the current 15-day period of recommended closures and self-isolation before making any decisions, which would be 30 March.

At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were exploring new guidance making it possible for people working in “critical infrastructure” jobs who have been exposed to the virus to return to work faster “by wearing a mask for a certain period of time,” Mike Pence, the vice president, said.

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