New York and US six states have extended shutdowns even as President Donald Trump announced measures to ‘open up America again’ to reboot the economy.
Eager to speed up the US recovery from the coronavirus fallout, Mr Trump has released non-mandatory guidelines advising states how best to relax lockdown restrictions.
His strategy came as governors of the worst hit states extended shutdown measures until May 15 and warned that poor testing would hamper the resumption of normal life.
America leads the world in coronavirus infections, with 654,301 cases and 31,628 deaths on April 17. New York remains the worst-affected state.
While some European nations have taken slow steps towards easing restrictions, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned of another four weeks of the existing social distancing rules.
Mr Trump’s roadmap outlines a phased approach to restoring normalcy, but only for places with strong testing and falling COVID-19 cases.
It includes a three-step process to re-open businesses and schools, with each phase lasting at least 14 days.
However, the final decision about re-opening remains up to each state, with Mr Trump telling governors during a teleconference: “You’re going to call your own shots. We’re going to be standing along side of you.”
The recommendations make clear that the return to regular life will be a far longer process than Mr Trump initially envisioned, and some social distancing measures may be needed until the end of the year.
At earliest, the guidelines suggest some parts of the US could resume business and social gatherings after a month of evaluating whether easing restrictions brings a resurgence in virus cases.
Major News Conference tonight, the White House at 6:00 P.M. (Eastern), to explain Guidelines for OPENING UP AMERICA AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2020
Meanwhile, while earlier encouraging Americans to stay at home and avoid non-essential travel, the President’s daughter and senior White House adviser Ivanka was caught flouting the rules.
Ms Trump and her family drove from Washington to New Jersey – America’s second-worst-hit state – for the Passover. They were still in New Jersey on Friday (AEST).
Ms Trump, her husband Jared Kushner, also a top White House adviser, and their three children travelled on April 8, the same day she tweeted about “a Passover without precedent”, The New York Times reported.
The couple’s behaviour sparked criticism that they believed they were above rules designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.
Federal guidelines against discretionary travel and DC’s stay at home order apparently don’t apply if you’re Ivanka Trump or Jared Kushner — @anniekarni has details on their New Jersey trip for Passover https://t.co/Iv4s7LrR4T
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) April 16, 2020
But an official defended the trip, telling CNN: “Ivanka – with her immediate family – celebrated Passover at a closed down facility considered to be a family home.
“Her travel was no different than had she been travelling to/from work and the location was less populated than the surrounding area near her home in DC.
“While at Bedminster, she has been practising social distancing and working remotely. Her travel was not commercial. She chose to spend a holiday in private with her family.”
Opening up America again
Businesses and governors have warned that shortfalls in coronavirus testing could hamper any attempt to return to normalcy and that without widespread testing people could not go back to work.
Another 5.2 million more Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, lifting total filings for claims in the past month to more than 20 million.
Social distancing restrictions have strangled the US economy to an extent not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo said he was extending restrictions on business and social life in co-ordination with six neighbouring states that agreed to take a regional approach to reopening.
In addition to the seven-state east coast coalition, three governors from the west coast have formed a similar alliance to co-ordinate any reopening.
The 10 states, mostly led by Democrats, make up 38 per cent of the US economy.