World

Trump dithers over restrictions as virus spreads quickly across US

President Trump seeks quick end to social distancing despite infections rising to 53,000 cases nationally

WASHINGTON: As US President Donald Trump prevaricated over whether to relax social distancing restrictions, the strain of the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak accelerated across the US yesterday beyond the hot spots of New York, California and Washington state as Louisiana and Iowa were declared federal disaster areas.

Mr Trump issued the disaster declarations late Tuesday night, freeing up federal funds to help combat the potentially lethal disease as it strains state and local resources nationwide.

Louisiana, where large crowds recently celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans and other parishes, has reported a spike in cases with 1,388 total confirmed cases and 46 deaths as of midday Tuesday, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

"I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of state and local governments," the state's governor wrote the White House this week in seeking the declaration.

Iowa, where officials announced the state's first death from the coronavirus Tuesday night, has reported 124 confirmed cases.

Nationwide, Covid-19 has infected more than 53,000 people and killed at least 720, with World Health Organisation officials warning the US could become the global epicentre of the pandemic.

In recent days, the governors of at least 18 states have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the nation's population. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the virus' spread but has upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

President Donald Trump initially declared the beginning of the end of the coronavirus crisis in the US on Tuesday and called for a quick end to social distancing.

Mr Trump, who is keen to get his reelection campaign back on track, said that social distancing has caused too much pain to the US economy.

"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," added Mr Trump, declaring he could see "light at the end of the tunnel."

The administration on March 16 declared "15 Days to Slow the Spread," a period which expires early next week. But Mr Trump made clear on Tuesday 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, Mr Trump appeared to retreat from his Easter goal at a press conference alongside the renowned government infectious diseases specialist Anthony Fauci.

"We'll only do it if it's good," Mr 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.

And despite Mr Trump's relentless optimism, New York Governor Andrew 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. - REUTERS, AFP

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