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coronavirus New York

Trump grapples with opening up country

News Analysis by Arul Louis

New York: With signs that the COVID-19 pandemic may be abating in the worst affected areas, President Donald Trump is grappling with how to open up the diverse nation while avoiding flareups and facing political opposition.

“The battle continues, but the data suggests that nationwide we have passed the peak on new cases,” Trump said on Wednesday at his news briefing.

“These encouraging developments have put us in a very strong position to finalize guidelines for states on reopening the country,” the President said, adding that he will announce the plan on Thursday.

But Trump said that ultimately it will be up to the governors of the 50 states to open up their states – “some states much sooner than others”.

He had muddied the waters by saying earlier that he had the absolute powers to determine nationwide the easing of the restrictions and override governors and faced fierce opposition.

Trump has been cautious as he listens to the advice of his medical advisers, Anthony Fauci and Deborah Brix. Dr Fauci is trusted widely in the nation as he has sometimes openly disagreed with Trump. His OK on a Trump plan would get the President credibility.

Trump’s current marker is May 1, but he has said that would take the advice of the two doctors.

The US will likely follow a variation of the plan announced by India on Wednesday, which calls for restarting some vital areas of the economy with provisions for social distancing and keeping some hot areas under strict controls.

One difference will be that the US program will be more decentralized and rely heavily on testing, both to identify those who are infected and those who have recovered and will less likely be at risk.

Under the shadow of the November election, pulling the nation out of the Stay-at-Home slumber is a political issue.

Trump would want to get the economy to rebound, while for some Democrats and many in the media prolonging the restrictions could be seen as helping defeat him.

Opposing Trump’s plans, Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to her party members: “The truth is, from this moment on, Americans must ignore lies (of Trump) and start to listen to scientists and other respected professionals in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

But New York’s Democratic Governor Andre Cuomo, who has risen to national prominence with his measured, reassuring daily briefings, has also been looking at easing restrictions. However, he wants it to be done in a phased manner considering how essential the businesses are, the degree of risk in opening them, with some able to maintain social distancing and other precautions.

The Stay-at-Home orders have crippled the US economy, created shortages of essential goods, disrupted education and taken a psychological toll on people shut in for weeks, even as it saved lives.

New York City has hired 11,000 drivers out of business from the restrictions to distribute food to people on the verge of starvation because of the Stay-at-Home orders, while victims have been buried in mass graves by prisoners.

Unlike New York and some other hot spots, vast areas of the country have so far been spared.

Vice President Mike Pence said that “24 per cent of the counties of this country have no reported coronavirus cases. In fact, half of the states in America have less than 2,500 cases per state”.

Meeting the criteria for opening up the country would hinge on three factors: 1. Flattening of the infection curve appears to be happening. 2. Ensuring that there is no flare up, for which mass vaccination would be needed. But first anti-bodies test which are ready, but would have to be deployed on a mass scale. These would identify those who can safely return to work. 3. Creating conditions for social distancing in work environments.

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