WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump said Wednesday the coronavirus pandemic has been worse for the United States than Pearl Harbor and 9/11 and renewed his criticism of China, saying the outbreak should have been stopped there.
As Germany unveiled plans for a return to near-normality -- including a May 15 restart of the Bundesliga -- the EU forecast a historic recession on the virus-battered continent.
Countries in Asia joined Europe, meanwhile, in easing the lockdowns that have kept swathes of humanity indoors for weeks and pummeled economies, tipping the world toward a recession not seen in decades.
Trump said fallout from the pandemic has hit the United States harder than the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor or the Sept. 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington.
"This is really the worst attack we've ever had," Trump told reporters at the White House. "This is worse than Pearl Harbor. This is worse than the World Trade Center."
The surprise Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii drew the United States into World War II. The 9/11 terrorist attacks killed about 3,000 people, triggering two decades of US wars and anti-terrorism operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.
Trump also lashed out at China, continuing a war of words over the origins of the deadly virus that emerged in Wuhan last year.
"It should have never happened," he said. "Could have been stopped at the source. Could have been stopped in China."
China hit back Wednesday at US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over his claims the virus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, saying he does not have any evidence.
"This matter should be handed to scientists and medical professionals, and not politicians who lie for their own domestic political ends," China's foreign ministry spokeswoman said.
Scientists believe the disease originated in animals and jumped to humans -- possibly in a Wuhan wet market where wild animals were sold.
'SHOCK WITHOUT PRECEDENT'
So far, nearly 72,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted on Wednesday that the toll in the US was on track to top 100,000 by the end of May.
Tom Frieden warned US lawmakers to brace for a "long and difficult" war against the virus and urged dramatically expanding testing to rein in the pandemic.
"Until we have an effective vaccine, unless something unexpected happens, our viral enemy will be with us for many months or years," Frieden said.
The pandemic has killed more than 260,000 people globally and officially infected nearly 3.7 million, although with limited testing the number is believed to be far higher.
Europe accounts for the lion's share of deaths and infections, though hardest hit Britain, Italy, Spain and France have started a leveling off of new cases and fatalities.
On the economic front, the news was less optimistic.
The eurozone economy is forecast to contract by a staggering 7.7 percent this year, EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Paulo Gentiloni said.
"Europe is facing an economic shock without precedent since the Great Depression," Gentiloni warned.
Governments are seeking to revive their economies by slowly lifting lockdown measures that have hemmed in more than 4.6 billion people worldwide -- while avoiding a deadly second wave of the virus.
Germany will allow all students back to school this month, all shops to resume business and even restart the Bundesliga -- though it would remain spectator-free for now.
Germany's top-flight will become the first of Europe's major football leagues to return to the field.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said some lockdown measures could be scaled back from next week, though he warned against moving too briskly.
"It would be an economic disaster for this country if we were to pursue a relaxation of these measures now in such a way as to trigger a second spike," said Johnson, who was himself treated in hospital for the virus.
The UK on Tuesday overtook Italy for the highest number of deaths in Europe, and is now second after the US in terms of fatalities.
SPANISH LOCKDOWN EXTENDED
France is inching towards a May 11 deadline to allow some schools to open again after almost 2 months out, while Spanish lawmakers extended a state of emergency keeping lockdown measures in place for at least 2 more weeks.
The vote came as Spain said foreign tourist arrivals plummeted by 64 percent in March, a major blow to a key economic lifeline.
In Washington, Trump, who is eager to get the world's biggest economy restarted as he seeks reelection on November, said reopening was a priority.
"We have to get our country open again," he said. "People want to go back and you will have a problem if you don't do it."
Trump also backpedaled on scrapping his coronavirus task force after Vice President Mike Pence suggested it could be done away with by early June.
As Trump weighed reopening the US, some students in Wuhan were back in class on Wednesday.
But there were new regulations to get used to: face masks, thermal scanners and desks spaced apart or separated by screens.
Elsewhere in Asia, signs of life returned in South Korea, once home to the region's second worst outbreak after China.
Workers went back to the office and museums and libraries opened again.
© Agence France-Presse