Anxiety on Monday ratcheted up across an eerily deserted New York City, the US’ coronavirus epicenter, but US President Donald Trump said that he would soon call for lifting the lockdown in some parts of the country.
Trump — who faces re-election in November and is keen to avoid extended economic damage — told reporters that he would be “opening up our country to business, because our country was meant to be open.”
The relaxation could be announced early next week when a 15-day period recommending tight restrictions on “social distancing” expires, he said, adding that governors would make final decisions in their own states.
Health officials and state governors dealing with the worst outbreaks have said that they expect restrictions would have to continue for some time — and New York’s mayor called for a nationwide lockdown.
As the number of deaths in the US from COVID-19 soared to 560, with almost 44,000 declared cases, the Big Apple found itself the US bullseye of the global pandemic.
With millions of residents ordered to stay home and nonessential businesses and schools closed, the city that never sleeps is bedding down for an uncertain slumber.
New York City has now seen more than 12,000 confirmed cases and almost 100 deaths in the outbreak, which first appeared in the US in Washington state.
With only essential workers, such as pharmacists, grocery store workers, nurses and doctors, headed to work on Monday, rush hour in the city was more like a trickle of traffic.
New York’s yellow cabs were out, but passengers appeared few and far between, with sidewalks virtually deserted. Underground, normally packed subway cars trundled along close to empty.
On the New York Stock Exchange, the opening bell, usually greeted by cheering and clapping, was met with silence as the first day with no floor trading took place.
Only electronic trading occurred as stocks plunged deep into the red before recovering somewhat, with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 closing down about 3 percent.
Trump said that he wanted to get restrictions on movement lifted where possible so that people can get back to work.
He acknowledged that medical advisers focused more on public health than the economy might not agree with his decision.
“The doctors, if it were up to them, they may say: ‘Let’s keep it shut down, let’s shut down the entire world,’” Trump said. “We can’t do that and you can’t do that with the country, especially the No. 1 economy anywhere in the world by far.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the city was just at “the beginning” of dealing with the pandemic as soldiers from the US National Guard began converting a convention center into a facility with hospital beds.
“It’s going to be bad this week, it’s going to be worse the following week,” he said.
De Blasio added that the city’s overwhelmed public hospitals only have enough medical supplies to last the week and pleaded with the federal government to speed up production.
“I literally want to see hundreds of ventilators, I want to see first hundreds of thousands and millions of masks,” De Blasio said. “If that doesn’t come in starting this week, we will get to a point where people can’t be saved who could have been saved.”
De Blasio said that Trump should be calling a nationwide lockdown similar to those introduced locally in New York, California and Illinois.
Trump has ruled that out.
About one-third of Americans are living under various phases of lockdown.
On Monday, Washington state, Michigan and New Mexico became the latest to sign a “shelter in place” order, as Ohio’s and Louisiana’s took effect.
California Governor Gavin Newsom tightened a lockdown to shut parking lots at beaches and parks after tens of thousands flouted social distancing rules.
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that case numbers across the US were going to get worse before they get better.
“We really need everyone to understand this is serious, to lean into what they can do to flatten the curve,” he said.
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