The United States could become the new centre of the global coronavirus pandemic, according to the World Health Organization, which said case numbers were rising quickly there even as Donald Trump talked of re-opening the country for business.
“We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the US. So it does have that potential [to become the centre of the pandemic],” the WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said.
So far, 46,450 people in the US have become infected with the virus and there have been 593 deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
There have been 46,369 confirmed cases across the US so far. The true number of cases is likely to be significantly higher.
Trump acknowledged that crucial healthcare supplies to protect frontline staff treating sick patients were becoming difficult to obtain.
In an early morning tweet, Trump said: “The world market for face masks and ventilators is crazy. We are helping the states to get equipment, but it is not easy.”
But while more US governors were urging people to stay at home, Trump appeared to play down the crisis on Monday night.
The president said he was considering ways to restart the economy in the coming weeks and wanted to avoid the pandemic becoming “a long-lasting financial problem”. It would not last as long as three or four months, he said.
“Our country was not built to be shut down,” Trump said. “This is not a country that was built for this.”
Trump’s top advisers referred to current government restrictions as a “15-day challenge” and pledged to revisit in a week’s time the need for sweeping measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
In Spain, meanwhile, the numbers infected and tested rose from 33,089 to 39,673 on Tuesday, according to the health ministry, while the death toll rose from 2,182 to 2,696.
Health workers accounted for nearly 14% of Spain’s total reported cases as of Tuesday, up from 12% the previous day, according to data presented by the health emergency chief, Fernando Simon.
An estimated 1.7 billion people around the world have been ordered to remain at home as governments take extreme measures to protect their populations. Britain became the latest country to enter lockdown, after bans on movement came into force at midnight on Monday.
France entered a two-month “state of health emergency” on Tuesday that provides a legal framework for existing confinement and restrictive measures and allows the government to order further restrictions, including controlling the price of certain products and requisitioning people and property for the “war” effort.
The Dutch government strengthened its containment measures, banning all public gatherings regardless of size until 1 June. Mayors have been empowered to close beaches, parks, campsites and other public spaces if people are not respecting physical distancing rules that are set in the Netherlands at a 1.5 metre gap between people. The prime minister, Mark Rutte, described the boosted measures as an “intelligent lockdown”.
Meanwhile tens of millions of people living in Hubei province, the centre of China’s outbreak, were told they would be able to resume travel from midnight (1600 GMT), except in the city of Wuhan.
China claims to have largely brought its outbreak under control, reporting only imported cases of the virus and few or no new domestic cases in recent days. However the claims have been questioned by residents and analysts, who note that some hospitals are reportedly refusing to test for the virus, and that there are allegations of manipulated numbers, and rumours of unreported cases.