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Trump changes focus of virus task force

By AI HEPING in New York | | Updated: 2020-05-07 10:16
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US President Donald Trump takes questions from the news media during a news briefing with members of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) task force as they discuss the virus and the current US outbreak at the White House in Washington, US, March 16, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

US President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the White House Coronavirus Task Force won't be shutting down after all but will shift its focus to reviving US businesses and social life and developing vaccines and therapeutics.

Trump's Twitter announcement reversed plans announced the day before by Vice-President Mike Pence, who leads the coronavirus group, to wind down the task force as early as this month.

Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that because of the task force's "success", it would "continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN".

"We may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate," he said.

The reversal came as Trump faced criticism from Democrats and public-health experts for announcing an end to the task force.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that she didn't believe Trump should pivot to reopening at the expense of emphasizing the need for more testing.

"If you undermine science, if you underfund testing, if you exaggerate the opportunity that is out there for the economy at the risk of people dying, that's not a plan," Pelosi told MSNBC. "Death is not an economic motivator, stimulus. So why are we going down that path?"

A number of US states saw a record increase in cases Tuesday, including Kentucky, Oregon and Wisconsin. Minnesota has set a new record for cases nine out of the last 14 days, including 728 new cases on Wednesday.

In the US on Wednesday, confirmed coronavirus cases passed 1.21 million and deaths topped 72,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Globally, there are 3.72 million cases, and the death toll from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, rose to more than 261,000 by Wednesday, according to the university.

Trump on Wednesday met with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds at the White House to discuss the nation's food supply, including how meatpacking plants are reopening in her state.

"This is critical infrastructure," Reynolds said about the plants during the meeting.

On Wednesday, USA Today and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting said the number of coronavirus cases at US meatpacking plants in 29 states passed 10,000 this week and that at least 45 workers have died.

The outbreaks have prompted at least 40 meat-slaughtering and processing plants to close, from one day to several weeks, since the start of the pandemic, the newspaper reported.

General Motors said Wednesday that it was preparing to restart most of its operations in the US and Canada on May 18, using new safety protocols to protect employees from the coronavirus.

Retailer Gap Inc, which owns Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta, said Wednesday it will start reopening some stores this weekend in Texas and expects to open up to 800 stores in North America by the end of the month. The openings would be dependent on guidelines from state and local authorities, the company said.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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