US huddles indoors as virus deaths spike

US states Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Nevada have instituted sweeping stay-at-home directives.
US states Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Nevada have instituted sweeping stay-at-home directives.

Four new states in the United States have imposed sweeping stay-at-home directives in response to the coronavirus pandemic, putting more than 80 per cent of Americans under lockdown as the number of deaths and cases soared to new daily highs.

The governors of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Nevada each instituted the strict policies on a day when the death toll from COVID-19 shot up by 925 to more than 4800 nationwide, with 214,000 confirmed cases, according to a Reuters tally.

President Donald Trump said he saw no need for the federal government to issue a nationwide decree, with 39 states and the District of Columbia now requiring residents to stay home except for essential outings to the doctor or grocery store.

He also told a White House briefing on Wednesday he was considering a plan to halt flights to coronavirus hot spots.

"We're certainly looking at it, but once you do that you really are clamping down on an industry that is desperately needed," Trump told a White House news briefing.

Such a plan might conceivably shut down traffic at airports in hard-hit New York, New Orleans and Detroit.

"We're looking at the whole thing," Trump said of curtailing domestic flights already greatly reduced as demand has fallen.

White House medical experts have forecast that even if Americans hunker down in their homes as told to slow the spread of COVID-19, some 100,000 to 240,000 people could die from the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

A Pentagon official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said the US Department of Defense was working to provide up to 100,000 body bags for use by civilian authorities in the coming weeks.

New York state remained the epicenter of the outbreak, accounting for more than a third of the US deaths. Governor Andrew Cuomo told police on Wednesday to enforce rules more aggressively for social distancing.

"Young people must get this message, and they still have not gotten the message. You still see too many situations with too much density by young people," Cuomo said in imposing rules to close playgrounds, swing sets, basketball courts and similar spaces.

"How reckless and irresponsible and selfish for people not to do it on their own," Cuomo said.

California saw the number of coronavirus cases surge by roughly 1300 to nearly 10,000.

Governor Gavin Newsom warned that even as stay-at-home policies were having some effect, the state would run out of intensive- care hospital beds equipped with ventilators within six weeks.

Newsom said California could still manage to "bend" the state's infection curve more, saving the need for additional beds, if residents were rigorous in staying home and avoiding contact with others.

"We are in a completely different place than the state of New York and I hope we will continue to be, but we won't unless people continue to practice physical distancing and do their part," he told a news conference in the state capital, Sacramento.

But Americans under lockdown and largely unable to work struggled with making ends meet as rent came due on Wednesday, the first day of the month.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said a 6-week-old baby had died from COVID-19, in what he called "a reminder that nobody is safe from this virus".

Australian Associated Press