US death toll climbs as Trump rebuffs ‘unreasonable’ restrictions, blames China

President appears to back growing protest movement for economy to reopen, says Beijing could face consequences for keeping virus under wraps

US President Donald Trump listens alongside an infographic during a press briefing with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on April 18, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images/AFP)
US President Donald Trump listens alongside an infographic during a press briefing with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on April 18, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images/AFP)

US President Donald Trump warned that China could be punished for failing to alert the world to the novel coronavirus and urged US governors to reopen their economies as the US death toll from the pandemic neared 40,000 victims Saturday.

The coronavirus death toll in the US climbed by 1,891 in the past 24 hours to reach 38,664 on Saturday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The US has seen a total of 732,197 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the global health crisis, according to the Baltimore-based university, making it the country with the highest number of virus cases and deaths in the world.

Globally, over 159,000 people have died, including over 100,000 in Europe, and 2.3 million cases of the virus have been reported.

Medics wear protective gear as they arrive at a Brooklyn hospital to pick up a patient on April 18, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Speaking to reporters at a White House briefing, Trump said China could face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible” for the pandemic, and cast doubt on the number of people reported dead by Beijing.

“It could have been stopped in China before it started and it wasn’t,” Trump told  “And now the whole world is suffering because of it.”

Trump was asked whether China should suffer consequences over the pandemic which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

US President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a press briefing with White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, on April 18, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images/AFP)

“If they were knowingly responsible, certainly,” he said. “If it was a mistake, a mistake is a mistake.

“But if they were knowingly responsible, yeah, then there should be consequences,” Trump said.

“Was it a mistake that got out of control or was it done deliberately?” he asked. “That’s a big difference between those two.

“In either event they should have let us go in,” he said. “We asked to go in early. And they didn’t want us in. I think they knew it was something bad and they were embarrassed.”

“They said they’re doing an investigation,” the president continued. “So let’s see what happens with their investigation. But we’re doing investigations also.”

The Trump administration has said it doesn’t rule out that the novel coronavirus was spread — accidentally — from a laboratory researching bats in Wuhan.

Government workers stand outside a blue tent used to coordinate transportation of travelers from Wuhan to designated quarantine sites in Beijing, China, Wednesday, April 15, 2020 (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian — who previously alleged that the US military may have brought the virus into China — has rejected US media reports on the subject and said there is “no scientific basis.”

Trump cast doubt on official Chinese figures showing the country has suffered just 0.33 deaths per 100,000 people. China’s death toll jumped to 4,632 on Friday after it raised by 50 percent the number of fatalities for Wuhan.

“The number’s impossible,” he said. “It’s an impossible number to hit.”

The United States, according to a chart displayed at the briefing, has had 11.24 deaths per 100,000 people while France has had 27.92 and Spain 42.81.

Trump himself displayed some fuzzy math, saying without his decision to block travel from China early on, a billion Americans could have died — well more than the estimated 325 million Americans alive according to the US census bureau.

He also voiced backing for growing protests around the country, which have pushed back against regulations restricting movement and shuttering businesses in a bid to keep the virus’s spread in check.

Demonstrations Saturday at the capitols of states including Texas, Maryland, New Hampshire and Ohio drew hundreds of people, many waving American flags and some carrying arms, demanding a quick end to state-ordered confinement.

Trump has repeatedly called for the earliest possible return to normality as virus-related closings have had a crushing impact on American workers and businesses.

Hundreds of New Hampshire residents rally at the State House, calling on the government to re-open the state for business as the coronavirus shutdown continues, in Concord, New Hampshire, on April 18, 2020. (Joseph Prezioso / AFP)

“I really think some of the governors have gotten carried away,” Trump said, accusing them of imposing “unreasonable” restrictions.

He welcomed the reopening of some businesses in Texas and Vermont on Monday “while still requiring appropriate social distancing precautions.”

The spreading anti-lockdown movement drew encouragement Friday from Trump, who tweeted that three states with Democratic governors should be “liberated” from the stay-home orders.

An empty parking lot is seen at retail stores are closed, April 15, 2020, in Whitestown, Indiana. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

But Americans, by two-to-one, disagree with the protesters. A new Pew survey found that most were more concerned about ending home confinement too soon rather than too late.

‘Under control’

Mounting evidence suggests that social distancing slowed the pandemic after more than half of humanity — 4.5 billion people — were confined to their homes.

Many countries are testing only the most serious cases and the number of confirmed infections is likely to be a fraction of the true total.

Stay-at-home orders have been enforced in Italy and Spain, still the hardest-hit countries in Europe, with 23,227 and 20,043 fatalities respectively, followed by France with 19,323 deaths. Britain’s overall death toll is officially 15,464.

As governments around the world grapple with when and how to ease lockdowns that have crippled the global economy, Spain on Saturday extended its nationwide lockdown to May 9.

A billboard is installed on an apartment building in Cape Town, South Africa, March 25, 2020. (AP/Nardus Engelbrecht)

Japan, Britain and Mexico have all expanded their movement restrictions.

Yet elsewhere, signs that the outbreak could be easing prompted Switzerland, Denmark and Finland to begin reopening shops and schools this week.

Germany has declared the virus “under control” after 3,400 deaths, and is beginning the delicate task of lifting some restrictions without triggering a secondary outbreak — with some shops allowed to reopen Monday, and some children returning to school within weeks.

Parts of Italy began emerging from lockdown too, with Venice residents strolling around quiet canals.

Members of ” Row Venice “, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the traditional Venetian rowing style, deliver food to families who do not have the opportunity to go to buy directly, on April 18, 2020 in Venice. (ANDREA PATTARO / AFP)

Iran also allowed some Tehran businesses to reopen Saturday despite the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak.

“How can I keep staying home? My family is hungry,” said Hamdollah Mahmoudi, 45, a shopworker in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar.

A biker wearing a face mask to curb the spread of the new coronavirus drives past a group of people selling hand sanitizer at a low price in Tajrish square in northern Tehran, Iran, April 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Virtually no corner of the world has been left untouched, with deaths in Africa passing 1,000.

Nigeria announced the death of a top aide to President Muhammadu Buhari.

Meanwhile, many of the world’s 260 million Orthodox Christians are preparing to mark Easter without attending church services.

In Zimbabwe, mass rallies and military parades to mark the country’s 40th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule were cancelled.

And Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II will not mark her birthday on Tuesday with a traditional gun salute.

As the latest grim data emerged, performers from around the world kicked off an hours-long live-streamed concert aimed at supporting health care workers, and cultivating a sense of community in a time of crisis.

The eight-hour event, which includes A-listers ranging from cellist Yo-Yo Ma to award-winning teen singer Billie Eilish to the Rolling Stones, was brought together by the advocacy group Global Citizen with the World Health Organization.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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