Donald Trump has attacked China once again over the coronavirus pandemic – questioning whether it was a “mistake that got out of control” or a crisis that was started deliberately.
At the daily White House briefing, the US president warned that Beijing would face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible” for the spread of COVID-19, but he stopped short of saying what type of actions he might take.
“It could have been stopped in China before it started and it wasn’t, and the whole world is suffering from it,” Mr Trump told reporters on Saturday.
The president has ramped up his rhetoric in recent days, and he has repeatedly referred to coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” in the past.
Mr Trump and his senior aides have also accused China of lacking transparency. These allegations resurfaced after the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, revised its total number of fatalities upwards – increasing them by 50%.
Dr Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus taskforce, also questioned China’s data on Saturday, with charts indicating that the country’s death rate per 100,000 people is substantially below major European countries and the US.
Describing China’s figures as “unrealistic”, she warned the country has a “moral obligation” to provide credible information to the rest of the world.
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This week, the Trump administration also suspended aid to the World Health Organisation – accusing the UN health agency of being “China-centric”.
Critics claim Mr Trump is attempting to use Beijing to deflect from shortcomings in his own response to the pandemic.
The US has by far the world’s highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 730,000 infections and over 38,000 deaths.
There are concerns in the White House of a potential backlash if tensions between Washington and Beijing get too heated, as the US is heavily reliant on China for personal protective equipment.
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Demonstrations demanding an end to stay-at-home measures that have hit America’s economy spread further on Saturday.
This is despite the fact that new coronavirus hotspots are continuing to emerge nationwide, and experts warning that relaxing restrictions too quickly could prove disastrous.
Texas and Vermont are going to allow certain businesses to reopen on Monday, while the state of Montana is planning to lift restrictions on Friday.
“We continue to see a number of positive signs that the virus has passed its peak,” the president told reporters.
New York, which has recorded almost half of the country’s deaths from COVID-19, reported 540 new coronavirus-related fatalities on Saturday – the lowest daily number since 1 April.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has sparred with Donald Trump repeatedly during the pandemic, said: “If you look at the past three days, you could argue that we are past the plateau and we’re starting to descend, which would be very good news.”
However, Mr Cuomo warned that 2,000 people are still being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 on a daily basis – and said nursing homes remain a “feeding frenzy” for the virus.
“We are not at a point when we are going to be reopening anything immediately,” he added.
More than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past month, with the closures of businesses and schools – alongside severe travel restrictions – hitting the economy hard.
However, an influential research model has suggested that strict adherence to stay-at-home orders imposed in 42 US states has been a crucial factor behind an improved forecast for the country’s coronavirus death toll.
The University of Washington is now projecting that 60,308 people in the US will die from coronavirus by 4 August, a 12% decrease from a forecast made earlier this week.