Daily US Times, Washington: The United States now has the highest number of known coronavirus cases in the world, overtaking China with more than 85,500.
According to Johns Hopkins University China has confirmed 81,782 cases and Italy 80,589.
But the US death toll surpassed 1,300, which is behind Italy (8,215) and China(3,291).
The grim milestone came as President Trump predicted the nation would get back to normal ‘pretty quickly’.
Meanwhile, The number of Americans filing jobless claims for unemployment benefits surged to a record of more than 3 million last week. This follows the strict measures to lockdown businesses to contain the coronavirus pandemic ground the country, which unleashed major layoffs.
The situation brought an end to the longest employment boom in U.S. history.
The US Labor Department confirmed the jobless claims on Thursday and offered the clearest evidence yet of the coronavirus’ devastating impact on the economy.
Experts say that the economy is already in recession while weekly unemployment claims are the most timely labor market indicator.
The Labour Department said initial claims for unemployment benefits rose 3,001,000 to a seasonally adjusted 3.28 million in the week ending March 21, eclipsing the previous record of 695,000 set in 1982.
The economic lockdown in such a big scale has forced the Federal Reserve to take extraordinary steps and the U.S. Congress to assemble a record $2 trillion stimulus package.
How did the White House react?
Vice president Mike Pence said the coronavirus cases testing is now available in all 50 US states and so far more than 552,000 tests have been conducted across the country.
President Trump said in a White House briefing on Thursday that the large confirmed coronavirus cases were “a tribute to the amount of testing that we’re doing”.
He also cast doubt on China’s confirmed cases, saying: “You don’t know what the numbers are in China.”
Does Trump still hope to ease restrictions?
The President recently said he wishes to reopen American business on Easter Sunday, which is on 12 April. His idea generated lots of criticism and fear as the situation on the ground is worsening every day.
At Thursday’s briefing, Trump said: “They [the American people] have to go back to work, our country has to go back, our country is based on that and I think it’s going to happen pretty quickly.
“We may take sections of our country, we may take large sections of our country that aren’t so seriously affected and we may do it that way,” he added.
Responding to the criticism, he said lots of people misinterpret him when he said about reopening business. Trump said ”they’re going to be practicing as much as you can social distancing, and washing your hands and not shaking hands and all of the things we talked about.”
He promised more details in the next week.
What could he be planning?
The president sent a letter to state governors on Thursday, where he said his administration plans to release federal social distancing guidelines that may advise some regions to loosen restrictions.
He wrote of a “long battle ahead” and said “robust” testing protocols might allow some counties to lift their safeguards against the coronavirus.
The “new guidelines” would create low, medium and high-risk zones, said the president in the letter, that would allow the government to advise on “maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures they have put in place”.
He phoned in to Fox News host Sean Hannity’s program and said he believed Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa, and parts of Texas could reopen earlier than other states.
The plan emerged amid a time when new research came out on Thursday, which estimated that the US death toll could top to 80,000 due to coronavirus – even if people observe strict social distancing.
According to the study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, as many as 2,300 patients could be dying every day by April.
What’s the reaction?
On Thursday, Republican Trump’s get-back-to-work goal found unexpected support from a prominent Democrat, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The governor said statewide quarantine orders may not have been the best approach to coronavirus.
In a press conference, Mr Cuomo said: “Young people then quarantined with older people was probably not the best public health strategy, because the younger people could have been exposing the older people to an infection.”
Public health experts on the White House task force have demurred when asked about reopening the country by Easter, suggesting the timeline should be “very flexible”.
Can the president order everyone back to work?
On 16 March, President Trump set a 15-day period to slow down the spread of Covid-19 by urging all Americans to drastically scale back their public interactions.
But those guidelines were not considered as a national order, rather voluntary.
The US Constitution makes clear states have the power for maintaining public order and safety, which scholars say means it is the responsibility of governors to decide when virus-related restrictions get lifted.
Currently, 21 states have told their residents to stay homes or ordered to the closure of non-essential businesses.