US now has highest reported coronavirus deaths in world
It has overtaken Italy, recording more than 20,000 deaths since outbreak began
NEW YORK: The US surpassed Italy on Saturday as the country with the highest reported coronavirus death toll, recording more than 20,000 deaths since the outbreak began, according to a Reuters tally.
The grim milestone was reached as President Donald Trump mulled over when the country, which has registered more than half a million infections, might begin to see a return to normality.
The US has seen its highest death tolls to date in the epidemic, with roughly 2,000 deaths a day reported for the last four days in a row, the largest number in and around New York City. Even that is viewed as understated, as New York is still figuring out how best to include a surge in deaths at home in its official statistics.
Public health experts have warned that the US death toll could reach 200,000 over the summer if unprecedented stay-at-home orders that have closed businesses and kept most Americans indoors are lifted when they expire at the end of the month.
Most of the curbs, however, including school closures and emergency orders keeping non-essential workers largely confined to home, flow from the power vested in state governors, not the president.
Nonetheless, Mr Trump has said he wants life to return to normal as soon as possible and that the measures aimed at curbing Covid-19 carry their own economic and public-health cost.
Speaking by telephone with Fox News on Saturday evening, Mr Trump said he would make a decision "reasonably soon", based on the advice of "a lot of very smart people, a lot of professionals, doctors and business leaders". He said "instinct" would also play a role.
"People want to get back, they want to get back to work. We have to bring our country back," he said.
Mr Trump's trade adviser, Mr Peter Navarro, told Fox News that "purist medical professionals" who took the position that the only way to minimise loss of life was to shut down the economy and society until the virus was "vanquished" were "half right".
He said "that will minimise the deaths from the virus directly" but added that economic shocks also killed people, through higher depression and suicide rates and drug abuse.
"So that very tough decision this President is going to be making is to have to weigh the balance and figure out which path does more damage."
In New York, the state's governor and New York City's mayor engaged in a fresh squabble over their efforts to combat the virus.
They have not appeared in public together since March 2.
On Saturday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that New York City's public schools would no longer reopen on April 20 but stay closed for the rest of the academic year, saying it was "the right thing to do".
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, later used his daily news conference to dismiss the mayor's edict as merely an "opinion" and said he would make his own decision on school closures. - REUTERS