Americas

Coronavirus: Trump calls for quick end to US lockdown

WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday (March 24) he wants to loosen the coronavirus lockdown in the United States and restart the economy within three weeks, calling social distancing measures too disruptive.

“A lot of people agree with me. Our country – it’s not built to shut down,” he said on Fox News.

“You can destroy a country this way by closing it down.”

“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” said Trump.

Easter is on April 12, 19 days away.

Social distancing and quarantine measures have been instituted across much of the United States, with stay-at-home orders for more than a third of the population, bringing the world’s biggest economy to an abrupt halt.

An Ipsos/Axios poll released Tuesday found that 74 per cent of Americans have stopped attending large gatherings, while 48 per cent have cancelled travel plans, leaving airports deserted.

Another significant casualty of the shutdown has been the presidential election campaign, with Trump having to halt a relentless series of big rallies around the country.

Health experts have advised the measures as the foundation for preventing the easily transmitted, potentially fatal illness from multiplying uncontrollably.

Trump called for a 15-day period of observation, which expires early next week.

But he made clear that he thinks the response has been blown out of proportion, saying “we lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off.”

“We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We didn’t call up the automobile companies to say, ‘Stop making cars’.”

US$2 TRILLION

The plunge in activity and warnings of recession or even depression are a brutal reversal for what was until a few weeks ago a humming economy, with record low unemployment.

Congressional leaders said Tuesday that they were getting closer all the time to delivering a major boost by passing a nearly US$2 trillion (S$2.9 trillion) rescue package for businesses, ordinary Americans and hospitals reeling from the shutdown.

Republicans and Democrats have been wrangling on the bill for several days but news that they were nearing a deal sent battered stock prices on Wall Street soaring.

This would be the biggest emergency injection of money into the economy in history, dwarfing even the bailouts of 2008, when the worldwide financial crisis sent the US economy into a tailspin.

‘BULLET TRAIN’

More than 600 people have died from the new coronavirus in the United States, while the number of confirmed cases has now passed 50,000, a tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University showed on Tuesday.

The US has the third-highest number of confirmed cases globally, behind China and Italy.

And despite Trump’s relentless optimism, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned Tuesday of “astronomical numbers” in the state and the nation’s biggest city.

“We are not slowing it. And it is accelerating on its own,” he said, comparing the spread of the disease to “a bullet train.”

POLITICS VERSUS HEALTH?

With his reelection campaign temporarily knocked off track, Trump is now seeking to turn the coronavirus calamity into a dramatic comeback story that will deliver him a second term in November.

One of his main claims to a second term, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, was the strong economy.

“We can’t lose a Boeing, we can’t lose some of these companies,” he said on the Fox News broadcast from the White House. “If we lose those companies we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs, millions of jobs.”

However, his push for a quick reopening of the economy carries the risk that some will see it as putting wealth over the survival of the sick, especially the vulnerable elderly.

Texas Lieutenant-Governor Dan Patrick said as much, urging those over 70 “not to sacrifice the country.”

Cuomo, whose daily news conferences have made him a major national voice during the crisis, shot back at those calling for rapid economic reopening, saying “my mother is not expendable.”

Despite being panned by opponents for his erratic messaging on the virus pandemic, Trump continues to get solid polling numbers, indicating that his likely Democratic opponent Joe Biden will not have an easy task.

In the latest Monmouth poll, 50 per cent approved Trump’s handling of the crisis, compared to 45 not approving.

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