World

Trump drops idea of NY lockdown as US death toll crosses 2,000

US President says a travel warning will be issued instead of a lockdown

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said on Saturday that he would issue a travel warning for the hard-hit New York area to limit the spread of the coronavirus, backing off from an earlier suggestion that he might try to cut off the region entirely.

"A quarantine will not be necessary," he said on Twitter.

Mr Trump's announcement came as the US death toll crossed 2,100, more than double the level from two days ago. The US has now recorded more than 122,000 cases of the respiratory virus, the most of any country in the world.

Since the virus first appeared in the US in late January, Mr Trump has vacillated between playing down the risks of infection and urging Americans to take steps to slow its spread.

Mr Trump said on Saturday afternoon that he might impose a ban on travel in and out of New York and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, the US epicentre of the disease, to protect other states that have yet to bear the brunt.

He offered few specifics.

Critics promptly called the idea unworkable, saying it would cause chaos in a region that serves as the economic engine of the eastern US, accounting for 10 per cent of the population and 12 per cent of GDP.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told CNN earlier that a lockdown on travel in and out of the global financial and trade hub would not be legal or make sense - especially since there are already local controls on movements.

"Why you would want to just create total pandemonium on top of a pandemic, I have no idea," he said.

"If you started walling off areas all across the country it would be totally bizarre, counter-productive, anti-American."

CDC

Hours later, Mr Trump dropped the idea, saying he would instead ask the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue a "strong travel advisory" that would be administered by the three states' governors.

The CDC later warned the states' residents against non-essential domestic travel for 14 days.

It said the warning did not apply to employees of "critical infrastructure industries" including trucking, public health and financial services.

It was the latest reversal for Mr Trump, who has been reluctant to order US companies to produce much-needed medical supplies, despite the pleas of governors and hospital workers.

Tests to track the disease's progress also remain in short supply, despite repeated White House promises that they would be widely available.

On Saturday, Mr Trump appeared to soften his previous comments calling for the US economy to be reopened by mid-April. "We'll see what happens," he said.

New York City reported more than 155 deaths on Saturday, taking the city's total to 672, about one-third of the 2,185 fatalities across the US, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. - REUTERS, AFP

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