Vancouver Sun

Trump forms council to ‘open our country’

DEATH TOLL CLIMBS Aides caution May 1 target may be too soon


WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump said he’ll introduce on Tuesday a council of doctors and business people who will advise his government on how to reopen the economy following the coronaviru­s outbreak.

“I call it the opening-our-country task force, or opening our country council,” he said at a White House news conference on Friday.

He added that “I think it’s bipartisan” and that the group would include “very, very great doctors and business people.”

Trump has sought to end economy-crushing social distancing practices that have curbed the spread of the coronaviru­s as soon as practicabl­e, though his aides have cautioned that May 1 may be too soon.

The president said on Friday that facts and recommenda­tions from health experts will determine the next steps taken to reopen the economy.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert and other health officials pointed to declining rates of coronaviru­s hospitaliz­ations and need for intensive care — particular­ly in hardest-hit New York — as signs that social distancing measures are paying off.

“Now is no time to back off,” Fauci told CNN on Friday. “The virus will decide” when the country can reopen, he added.

Those measures continue to take an enormous toll on the economy — some economists are forecastin­g job losses of up to 20 million in April.

However, were U.S. officials to lift shelter-in-place orders after 30 days, the nation’s death total could reach 200,000, the New York Times reported, citing new projection­s from the department­s of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services. An influentia­l university model this week had lowered the U.S. death projection to 60,000 if social distancing continued.

The United States has by far the world’s most confirmed coronaviru­s cases, at more than 485,000, with more than 18,100 deaths. Only Italy has had more fatalities.

After three days of record daily death rates, New York State’s COVID-19 tally was 777 on Thursday, down from 799 deaths a day earlier, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported on Friday. New York’s intensive care unit admissions declined “for the first time since we started this journey,” he said.

New York state has now recorded more than 7,000 deaths from COVID-19,

Perhaps nowhere was the grim calculus of the pandemic more evident than on Hart Island, a potter’s field at the western end of Long Island Sound, where contract labourers have been burying two dozen bodies of COVID-19 victims a day in pine caskets lowered into freshly dug trenches.

Normally, about 25 bodies are buried each Thursday on the island, but the number has tripled in recent weeks, according to the Department of Correction­s, the agency overseeing the burials.

The caskets, which bore names including “Abraham” and “Rogers,” were pictured being lifted out of refrigerat­ed trucks by inmates from nearby Rikers Island jail.

In Michigan, more than 200 people died from COVID-19 in the last day. “We are not out of the woods yet,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.

At his daily White House briefing, however, Trump said he was getting fewer calls from governors urgently seeking equipment and help.

Meanwhile, with more than 90 per cent of the country under stay-at-home orders, the holiest weekend on the Christian calendar began with services livestream­ed or broadcast. Many churches sat empty on Good Friday, when they would typically be overflowin­g with worshipper­s.

“We gather normally at Easter to worship. We gather for children’s Easter egg hunts, for family meals, with friends. We can’t do any of that this year,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy at his daily coronaviru­s briefing.

A handful of holdout U.S. churches plan to hold services on Easter Sunday, saying their right to worship in person outweighs public health officials’ warnings that they may be spreading more than just the Gospel by holding large gatherings.

“Satan and a virus will not stop us,” said Rev. Tony Spell, pastor of the evangelica­l Life Tabernacle Church near Baton Rouge, La. He expects more than 2,000 to gather at his megachurch on Sunday.

Google said it would work with Apple to create contact tracing technology that alerts people when they have been in close proximity with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The rare collaborat­ion between the two Silicon Valley companies could accelerate usage of apps that aim to get potentiall­y infected individual­s into testing or quarantine more quickly.


 ?? LUCAS JACKSON/ REUTERS ?? Bodies are buried Thursday on New York’s Hart Island where the department of correction­s is dealing with more burials overall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
LUCAS JACKSON/ REUTERS Bodies are buried Thursday on New York’s Hart Island where the department of correction­s is dealing with more burials overall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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