Russian military plane with masks & other Covid-19 medical aid departs for US – Defense Ministry

A military cargo plane carrying medical supplies to help the US combat the coronavirus outbreak has taken off from an airbase in Russia, after President Trump accepted an offer of assistance from Vladimir Putin.

“The plane with masks and medical equipment on board left for the United States,” the Russian Defense Ministry announced in a brief statement early on Wednesday.

The aid shipment comes after a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his American counterpart on Tuesday, during which the two discussed the fast growing pandemic and a major shortage of protective gear in the US, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Though US President Donald Trump announced the “very, very large planeload” of supplies before it was confirmed by Moscow, Peskov later said Russia had agreed to help, as the pandemic “affects everyone without exception and is of a global nature.”

Reports of the shipment prompted complaints from a number of American pundits, who read vague ulterior motives into the gesture, seeing the aid as a useless “propaganda ploy” at best, or even a pretext for a Russian spy operation. But the supplies come just as the US’ emergency stockpile is running dry, nearly depleted of vital protective gear for frontline healthcare workers fighting the pandemic.

Last week, Moscow also sent 600 much-needed ventilators, as well as masks and teams of medical experts, to virus-stricken Italy, where Covid-19 has killed more people than in any other country. Russophobic commentators there, too, were appalled, seeing the aid as a prelude to a Russian invasion, however a number of top Italian officials have since expressed gratitude for the “act of solidarity.”

‘Matter of life & death’: Trump’s Covid-19 task force projects up to 240,000 Americans will die even under strict social isolation

Workers wheel the body of a deceased person outside a Brooklyn hospital during the Covid-19 outbreak in New York City, March 31, 2020. ©  Reuters / Stefan Jeremiah

Senior members of the White House Covid-19 task force said Americans should prepare for at least 100,000 deaths from the pandemic, as the US president warned that following distancing guidelines was now a matter of life and death.

“The answer is yes,” said Dr Anthony Fauci of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when asked at a White House press conference on Tuesday if the US could really see between 100,000 and 240,000 fatalities in the outbreak. He added that he “hoped” containment measures could reduce the number.

Without the drastic social distancing efforts over the next 30 days – which are already underway in a number of states – the team projected up to 2.2 million fatalities.

©  White House

Dr Deborah Birx, coordinator for the White House response team, noted that the models used by the task force were based on extending the data from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut – among the country’s hardest-hit areas – applying to other states facing similarly severe outbreaks.

US President Donald Trump, noting that the next two weeks would be difficult as cases and deaths soar across the country, stressed the need for all Americans to follow social distancing guidance to stem the spread of the illness.

It’s absolutely critical for the American people to follow the guidelines for the next 30 days. It’s a matter of life and death

Dr. Fauci said the mitigation efforts in place were already paying off, and urged Americans to not be discouraged by the rapidly climbing number of cases. He added that “we are seeing little inklings” that the outbreak was beginning to slow down in New York, the country’s major hot spot with over 75,000 infections and some 1,550 deaths.

Though the president extended social distancing guidelines – initially set for 15 days – to the end of April on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence dismissed the idea of a nationwide lockdown akin to measures imposed in France and Italy, stating that the task force had “reasons to believe” the current containment strategy was “working.”