United States President Donald Trump is extending the voluntary national shutdown for a month as sickness and death from the coronavirus pandemic rise in the US.

The initial 15-day period of social distancing urged by the federal Government expires tomorrow and Trump had expressed interest in relaxing the national guidelines at least in parts of the country less afflicted by the pandemic.

But instead he decided to extend them until April 30, a tacit acknowledgment he'd been too optimistic.

Many states and local governments have stiffer controls in place on mobility and gatherings.


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Trump's impulse to restore normalcy met a sober reality check today from Dr Anthony Fauci, the Government's top infectious disease expert, who said the US could experience more than 100,000 deaths and millions of infections from the pandemic.

Trump's decision to extend the guidelines reflected a recognition that the struggle will take place over the longer haul.

The federal guidelines recommend against large group gatherings and urge older people and anyone with existing health problems to stay home.

People are urged to work at home when possible and avoid restaurants, bars, non-essential travel and shopping trips.

The extension would leave the federal recommendations in place beyond Easter on April 12, by which time Trump had hoped the country and its economy could start to rev up again. Alarmed public-health officials said Easter was sure to be too soon.

The US had more than 139,675 Covid-19 cases reported, with more than 2,400 deaths.

Hospitals in the most afflicted areas are straining to handle patients and some are short of critical supplies.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had earlier suggested that Trump shouldn't be so quick to reverse the social distancing guidelines, saying more testing needs to be in place to determine whether areas currently showing fewer infections are truly at lower risk.
Trump's "denial" in the crisis was "deadly," she told CNN.

"As the President fiddles, people are dying, and we have to take every precaution," she said.

She promised a congressional investigation once the pandemic is over to determine whether Trump heeded advice from scientific experts and to answer the question that resonates through US political scandals: "What did he know and when did he know it?"

Trump minimised the gravity of the pandemic for weeks. Asked whether she is saying that attitude cost American lives, Pelosi said: "Yes, I am. I'm saying that."

It put Pelosi out of lockstep with former Vice-President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, who said he wouldn't go so far as to lay the blame for deaths on the President. "I think that's a little too harsh," he told NBC.

Biden faulted Trump for holding back on using his full powers under the recently invoked Defence Production Act to spur the manufacture of the full range of needed medical supplies — and for making erratic statements about the pandemic.


"He should stop thinking out loud and start thinking deeply," Biden said.

- AP