In electoral politics, popularity is the name of the game.
And it’s apparently the reason US president Donald Trump says he has made an almost immediate about-face on his decision to dismantle the federal government’s coronavirus taskforce which is overseeing the response to the pandemic in the country.
“I had no idea how popular the taskforce is,” he told reporters in the White House on Thursday morning (AEST).
A day earlier, Mr Trump had signalled his intention to wind down the coronavirus taskforce in the coming weeks as he tells the American people the worst is behind them.
Despite the mounting death toll in the country, the president is keen to project a rosy picture of the pandemic, which continues to spread throughout the country. However advisers and medical experts stepped in quickly to convince him to backtrack on his latest idea.
“I thought we could wind it down sooner,” Mr Trump said.
“When I started talking about winding it down, I get calls from very respected people saying I think it would be better to keep it going.
“I didn’t know whether it was appreciated by the public, but it is appreciated by the public.”
Now, he says, the coronavirus taskforce will continue to operate “indefinitely” and new members will be added to it.
— Reuters (@Reuters) May 6, 2020
The notion the taskforce would no longer be required to coordinate the response to the crisis stunned public health experts as the number of new cases continues to rise in many cities.
While some of the hardest-hit cities in the US such as New York have continued to to see a steady decline in hospitalisations and deaths in recent weeks, other parts of the country are seeing a steady march upward in official case figures.
In the headline of an editorial on Wednesday, The New York Times warned: “Don’t Be Fooled by America’s Flattening Curve.”
When charting the ‘curve’ of new coronavirus cases, once New York is removed from the equation, the situation in the US suddenly doesn’t look so good.
The unfavourable trend is similarly disheartening when other US hotspots New Orleans and Detroit are removed from the data.
“If you just look at the total number of cases, you’re going to miss what’s underneath it,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota, told the Times.
“It’s not a levelling-off. It’s a painful handoff.”
The pain from the coronavirus crisis in the country is simply being shifted.
A number of states, mainly in the Midwest, have posted sharp spikes in new cases and deaths. For instance, Minnesota has set a record for new cases nine out of the last 14 days.
The rise in official cases figures, however, does come as a number of US states have significantly ramped up testing, providing a boost to detection and containment, which is partly behind the rise in official figures.
Trump tells public ‘you have to be warriors’
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is now estimating that there will be nearly 135,000 deaths in the United States through the beginning of August.
That’s more than double what it predicted just a few weeks ago in mid April when it projected 60,308 deaths by August – a figure Mr Trump was citing until very recently.
As of Thursday afternoon (AEST), the US has recorded 73,431 coronavirus deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Mr Trump said on Thursday the ongoing coronavirus taskforce would shift its primary focus to reviving US business and social life, while acknowledging that reopening the economy could put more lives at risk.
Asked if Americans will have to accept that reopening will lead to more deaths, the president told reporters: “You have to be warriors. We can’t keep our country closed down for years and we have to do something. Hopefully that won’t be the case, but it could very well be the case.”
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and best known member of Mr Trump’s taskforce, acknowledged he was losing the argument against reopening the country too quickly.
“There are counties and cities in which you can do that safely now, but there are others that if you do that, it’s really dangerous,” he said on CNN on Wednesday.
– with Reuters
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