United States Vice President Mike Pence (left) and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci listen as President Donald Trump (right) leads a discussion on COVID-19 at the White House, Washington, US, March 24, 2020. (Reuters)
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WASHINGTON – United States President Donald Trump pressed his case on Tuesday for a reopening of the United States economy by mid-April despite a surge in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, downplaying the pandemic as he did in its early stages by comparing it to the seasonal flu.
Trump and his coronavirus team on March 16 put in place recommendations for people across the country to cut down social and professional interactions for 15 days in a bid to reduce the virus’ spread.
But the president, a Republican who is seeking re-election in November, has begun to chafe at the economic repercussions.
During a live town hall broadcast on Fox News Channel and later at a briefing with reporters at the White House, he said he would like to have businesses opening their doors again by Easter, which will be celebrated on April 12.
“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said on Fox.
The president said the country did not take drastic measures to fight car crashes and flu deaths similar to those it is taking for the coronavirus. He said Americans could continue practicing social-distancing measures, which health experts say are crucial to prevent infection, while also going back to work.
“We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off,” Trump said. “You can destroy a country this way by closing it down.”
Health experts have warned that the best way to stop the spread of the virus is for people to stay home.
At a briefing with reporters later in the day, he seemed to soften his stance somewhat, saying he would make the decision based on advice from experts, including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Deborah Birx, who is helping lead the White House coronavirus tax force. Both doctors stood with Trump at the briefing.
Fauci said a deadline would be flexible. Trump said he would make the decision based on facts and data but stuck with his Easter timeframe, which he described as “beautiful”.