US President Donald Trump on Tuesday declared the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 crisis in the US and called for a quick end to social distancing, even as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo compared the growing pandemic to a “bullet train.”
Trump, who is keen to get his re-election campaign back on track, said that social distancing has caused too much pain to the US economy, prompting the US Congress to debate a historic rescue package.
“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,” Trump said, adding that he could see “light at the end of the tunnel.”
The president said he looked forward to “packed” churches on Easter, which is on April 12 — less than three weeks away.
Social distancing and quarantine measures have been instituted across much of the US, 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 on Tuesday found that 74 percent of Americans have stopped attending large gatherings, while 48 percent have canceled travel plans, leaving airports deserted.
Another significant casualty of the shutdown has been the presidential 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.
The administration on Monday last week declared “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” a period which expires early next week.
However, Trump made clear that he thinks the response to coronavirus deaths has been blown out of proportion, saying: “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We didn’t call up the automobile companies to say: ‘Stop making cars.’”
Later, Trump appeared to retreat from his Easter goal at a press conference alongside Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
“We’ll only do it if it’s good,” Trump said, adding that the reopening could be limited to a “portion” of the nation.
He mentioned areas like farm country, Texas and the west, often sparsely populated.
More than 775 people have died from COVID-19 in the US, while the number of confirmed cases is 55,225, a tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University showed yesterday.
The US has the third-highest number of confirmed cases globally, behind China and Italy.
Despite Trump’s optimism, Cuomo warned 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.”
With his re-election campaign temporarily knocked off track, Trump is now seeking to turn the calamity into a dramatic comeback story that would 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 would 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.”
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