Donald Trump orders 100,000 bodybags as US braces for coronavirus death toll to explode

And a leaked document has suggested US President Donald Trump – who yesterday warned the country it was facing a “painful two weeks” – was warned about the danger of a coronavirus outbreak three years ago. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has asked for 100,000 “human remains pouches” via an interagency group which referred it to the Defense Department with experts predicting death rates in the US will soar over the coming weeks. The Pentagon has a stockpile of 50,000 bodybags, measuring 94 by 38 inches – but has asked for more, a source familiar with the matter said.

A spokesman said FEMA was making “prudent planning” – including preparing for “mortuary contingencies”.

Despite stringent restrictions on movement being in force over much of the United States, modelling suggests the country is likely to be badly hit by the pandemic, with 216,722 confirmed cases as of 11am today, and more than 5,000 deaths so far, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

In New York, grim pictures showed bodies being wheeled out on gurneys, while the hospital ship USNS Comfort has been dispatched to New York City.

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As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it

Dr Anthony Fauci

Together Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, and Dr Deborah L Birx head up a White House task force coordinating the nation’s COVID-19 response.

Yesterday they stressed a death toll of between 100,000 and 240,000 was probable – while stressing they were hopeful the figure could be reduced with the application of strict “mitigation protocols”.

Dr Fauci explained: “As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it.

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“We’re going to do everything we can to get it significantly below that.”

US President Donald Trump said: “I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead.

“This is going to be a painful two weeks.

“Our strength will be tested, our endurance will be tried.

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“I don’t want to be negative. This is easy to be negative about but I want to give people hope too.

“You know, I’m a cheerleader for the country.”

Mr Trump’s remarks – including his acknowledgement that the coronavirus was “not the flu – it’s vicious” came in sharp contrast to previous risk assessments.

At a coronavirus briefing on February 26 he said: “This is a flu. This is like a flu.

“It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for. And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.”

As recently as March 9, he tweeted: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year.

“Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

Despite Mr Trump’s claim COVID-19 “came out of nowhere” the Pentagon report – obtained by US paper The Nation – suggested Mr Trump had been warned about the risk posed by a coronavirus-type illness in 2017.

The report states: “The most likely and significant threat is a novel respiratory disease, particularly a novel influenza disease”

Coronaviruses are also mentioned on a number of occasions, with the document, entitled USNORTHCOM Branch Plan 3560: Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease Response, explaining: “Coronavirus infections are common around the world.”

The report also warns of a shortage in medical equipment, including ventilators, devices and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and gloves.

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