US President Donald Trump has marked the “sad milestone” of 100,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States, after his earlier silence prompted criticism that he was failing in his duty to console victims and their loved ones.
“We have just reached a very sad milestone with the coronavirus pandemic deaths reaching 100,000,” Trump posted on Twitter, about 16 hours after the death toll passed the threshold according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.
“To all of the families & friends of those who have passed, I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy & love for everything that these great people stood for & represent. God be with you!”
The US death toll, from 1.7 million confirmed infections, is by far the highest of any nation, and critics have accused the president of an inadequate early response to the pandemic.
Mr Trump has repeatedly said any death from COVID-19 is tragic. But he has been chided for appearing to concern himself more with the country digging out from economic devastation than consoling tens of thousands of American families shattered by the loss of loved ones.
He has also been criticised for repeatedly offering unduly optimistic predictions about the final death count, only to be quickly contradicted each time by the relentlessly rising toll.
On Wednesday, as many American politicians including the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden were sharing their condolences and grief over the grim milestone, Mr Trump was tweeting repeatedly about other issues.
He posted more than 40 times on social media – on a variety of subjects but not about COVID-19 victims – between Wednesday evening and his Thursday morning tweet that acknowledged the 100,000 dead.
Mr Biden, who will challenge Mr Trump for the White House in November, swiftly addressed the milestone by releasing a video message to survivors.
“There are moments in our history so grim, so heart-rending, that they’re forever fixed in each of our hearts as shared grief. Today is one of those moments,” he said.
“Take some solace from the fact that we all grieve with you.”
2.1 MILLION WORKERS APPLY FOR BENEFITS
Mr Trump’s tweet came as the government revealed an estimated 2.1 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week despite the gradual reopening of businesses around the country.
It brings the running total since the coronavirus shutdowns took hold in mid-March to about 41 million.
In a glimmer of hope, the number of those now collecting benefits in the US fell for the first time since the crisis began, from 25 million to 21 million, suggesting some companies are starting to rehire.
Still, the Labor Department report underscored the continuing economic damage from the viral outbreak that has killed more Americans than in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined.
The US unemployment rate was 14.7 per cent in April, a level not seen since the Depression, and many economists expect it will be near 20 per cent in May.
Economists say many of the jobs lost are never coming back, and double-digit unemployment could persist through 2021.