Donald Trump wants to lift coronavirus lockdown to protect US economy

US president: "We can't let cure be worse than problem itself"

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Donald Trump has made clear he wants to loosen his nationwide coronavirus guidelines restricting the behaviour of United States citizens in an attempt to protect the economy.

During a press briefing at the White House that lasted around two hours, the US President repeatedly came back to the point that the limits placed on people’s movements were having a severe financial impact.

Despite soaring case numbers, Mr Trump warned that there could be "bigger problems" and even deaths from suicide if the economy slumped into recession and there were mass job losses. The stock market has continued to plunge in recent days and dire warnings have been made of unemployment in the US hitting 30 per cent, levels not seen since the Great Depression

Mr Trump would not commit to scrapping his current guidelines when the 15-day initial period comes to an end early next week but suggested he wanted to open the US economy back up in weeks rather than months.

"Our country was not built to be shut down," Mr Trump said at one point. He added later: "At a certain point we have to get open and we have to get moving."

At the same time the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in America has risen to more than 41,500, including more than 570 deaths. Only Italy and China have a higher number of known cases.

Mr Trump did little to hide the fact there was a disagreement behind the scenes with his health officials about whether it would be wise to loosen the restrictions placed on Americans to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Those guidelines included telling people not to gather in groups of more than 10 and not to eat in restaurants and bars, as well as urging Americans to work from home and avoid non-essential travel.

"If it was up to the doctors they may say: 'Let’s shut down the entire world,'" Mr Trump said at one point, adding their reaction to the world being shut would then be: 'Let’s keep it shut down for a couple of years.'

Mr Trump rebutted suggestions that loosening restrictions could help coronavirus spread, saying that people had “learned a lot” in the last week and noting it was possible to “do two things at one time”: to keep the country safe from Covid-19 and protecting the economy.

Earlier, the president tweeted: "We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself." He also said his government "will make a decision as to which way we want to go" when the 15-day initial time frame for the rules ends.

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US media outlets have reported tensions between some White House officials who believe the nationwide restrictions may have gone too far and US health officials who have stressed the need to get ahead of the outbreak. 

Mr Trump hinted at frustrations with the economic impact of the rules, sharing tweets written by other users which said after the 15-day period ends “we keep the high risk groups protected as necessary and the rest of us go back to work”. 

Dr Anthony Fauci, one of Mr Trump’s top health officials, given his role as Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there was debate behind the scenes about where to draw the line. 

"There is a discussion and a delicate balance about what's the overall impact of shutting everything down completely for an indefinite period of time," Dr Fauci told Science Magazine. 

Donald Trump with Dr Anthony Fauci, right, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Credit:  Stefani Reynolds/CNP/Bloomberg

"So, there’s a compromise. If you knock down the economy completely and disrupt infrastructure, you may be causing health issues, unintended consequences, for people who need to be able to get to places and can't. You do the best you can."

Jerome Adams, the US Surgeon General, also issued a downbeat message about the virus on Monday morning, saying: “I want America to understand this week it's going to get bad.” 

Mr Trump has activated the National Guard in three of the worst affected states in the US - New York, Washington and California - in a sign of how serious the outbreak has been in those areas. 

Mr Trump said the federal government would cover the cover "100 per cent" of the cost of the deploying the troops, who would help build medical stations with 1,000 extra hospital beds in New York, 1,000 in Washington and 2,000 in California. 

Mr Trump also confirmed that his wife, Melania Trump, had been tested for coronavirus and the results had come back negative. "She’s fine," the US president said. 

Meanwhile, on Washington DC's Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats traded accusations as they failed to reach an agreement by Monday afternoon over a near $2 trillion stimulus package - the largest emergency economic bill in US history.

Democratic senators twice blocked a vote on the Republican-written legislation, once on Sunday evening and once on Monday afternoon, as they sought to leverage their voting power to secure changes, triggering Republican fury.

Mitch McConnell, the most senior Republican in the Senate, accused the Democrats of holding up the bill to add pet projects like tax credits for solar and wind energy and new environmental standards for the airlines. 

Accusing his political opponents of acting out a "left-wing episode of Supermarket Sweep", Mr McConnell said the Democrats should be "embarrassed", saying: "This is not a juicy political opportunity, this is a national emergency."

Chuck Schumer, the leading Democrat in the Senate, dismissed the criticism, saying he had been negotiating with Trump administration officials until midnight on Sunday and had hoped to reach agreement by the end of Monday. 

However, he said he would not "blindly" vote through a law written by the Republicans, insisting the changes his party was seeking were all about making sure workers and not just corporate America gained benefit. 

With no breakthrough in Washington, the Dow Jones dropped three percentage points in early trading, continuing historic falls seen in the last fortnight. 

By Monday afternoon the bill - the details of which were still being negotiated  - included $500 billion in direct payments to US citizens, with most adults getting $1,200 and children getting $500 each. 

A key sticking point was the terms of $500 billion of loans for companies, which the US Treasury wants to direct with minimal oversight Some £50 billion for US airlines hit by the sudden drop in travel was also proposed.  

Rand Paul, the Republican senator for Kentucky, and the husband of Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator who sought the Democratic presidential nomination, tested positive for coronavirus.

Two other senators, Republicans Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, also went into self-isolation. 

Meanwhile, Andrew Cuomo, the New York Governor, has launched an appeal on social media for masks and ventilators for inundated hospitals amid shortages. 

"If you have or can make any of these supplies, New York is buying," Mr Coumo tweeted. It jarred with Mr Trump's claim that health workers who need such supplies are getting them.