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White House to Wind Down Coronavirus Task Force

From left, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn.

The White House is planning to terminate its coronavirus task force despite the continued spread of the COVID-19 infection in the United States and a growing death toll from the disease.

U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed Tuesday the task force headed by Vice President Mike Pence will be winding down.

During a visit to a factory in Phoenix, Arizona, that produces face masks, Trump told reporters, "Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job, but we're now looking at a little bit of a different form, and that form is safety and opening."

The United States currently has 1.2 million confirmed coronavirus infections, more than any other country in the world, and more than 70,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Trump acknowledged that the health crisis is far from over but said, "we can't keep our country closed for the next five years."

President Donald Trump participates in a tour of a Honeywell International plant that manufactures personal protective equipment, in Phoenix, May 5, 2020.
President Donald Trump participates in a tour of a Honeywell International plant that manufactures personal protective equipment, in Phoenix, May 5, 2020.

The U.S. economy has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. More than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment.

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said Tuesday that he expects the unemployment rate for April to be above 16%, "maybe as high as 20%." He told CNN network that "we are looking at probably the worst unemployment rate since the Great Depression."

Easing restrictions worldwide

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the global economy to its knees and countries worldwide are eager to reopen. European leaders have generally waited for the number of new infections to go down before relaxing tough lockdowns.

Most European Union countries are reopening this week, with new rules of behavior in place. Face masks and social distancing are required in most public places. Sweden is the only European country that has eschewed shutdown orders, but the number of its new COVID cases also is flattening.

China, South Korea and Vietnam are reporting very few or no new cases, mostly as a result of tough lockdown measures.

New Zealand and Australia also have had success in containing the virus. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday they were working on a plan to reopen travel between the two countries, but emphasized it would take some time to put it in practice.

A woman with a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks past a wall with arrows in Tokyo, May 5, 2020.
A woman with a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks past a wall with arrows in Tokyo, May 5, 2020.

Japan is not out of the woods yet and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday extended until the end of month the state of emergency which was due to expire May 6.

Sports leagues all over the world have put their seasons on hold amid stay-at-home orders and limits on public gatherings, but some are now allowing clubs to start training.

The Korea Baseball Organization is one of the first to resume play, and in a sign of the appetite for watching sports at this time, the league struck a deal to have some of its games broadcast on the U.S. cable sports giant ESPN in the middle of the night, U.S. time.

The U.S. National Football League is set to announce its schedule Thursday, but has decided to abandon plans to hold games this season in London and Mexico City.

Second wave feared

The world’s top health authorities, including the director of the U.S.'s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, have warned of the second wave of the pandemic later this year and called for prudence.

Scientists have determined that the latest strain of coronavirus is different from the one that started the pandemic in Wuhan, China, because it has had several mutations. It is spreading faster and could therefore be more dangerous. The information is of particular importance to researchers worldwide who are trying to develop a vaccine to protect from coronavirus infections.

A European-Union-led initiative raised more than $8 billion Monday to fund efforts to develop the vaccine and other remedies for the coronavirus. The United States and China did not pledge contributions, but a senior State Department official said that the United States is in the process of providing $2.4 billion in global health, humanitarian, and economic assistance toward the COVID-19 response.

The Trump administration has suspended U.S. contribution to the World Health Organization accusing it of inadequate response to the crisis.

Trump has also called for a probe into allegations that the coronavirus was produced in a Wuhan lab and did not originate in a food market as generally believed.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that "enormous evidence" showed the virus was lab-produced. A top U.S. military officer said Tuesday that there is no such evidence.

"The weight of evidence is that it was natural and not manmade," Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in a briefing. He called on the Chinese government to "open up and allow inspectors and investigators to go there."

China has reacted angrily to any suggestions that it might be responsible for the global pandemic of the deadly virus.

Close to 3.7 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 worldwide, and about 270,000 have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally for Tuesday evening.

Carla Babb contributed to this report.