From Texas to Indiana, US governors feel heat to ease restrictions from President Donald Trump and protesters
Governors eager to rescue their economies and feeling heat from President Donald Trump are moving to ease restrictions meant to control the spread of the coronavirus, even as new hot spots emerge and experts warn that moving too fast could prove disastrous.
Austin: Stores in Texas can soon begin selling merchandise with curbside service, and hospitals can resume nonessential surgeries. In Florida, people are returning to a few beaches and parks. And protesters are clamouring for more. Governors eager to rescue their economies and feeling heat from President Donald Trump are moving to ease restrictions meant to control the spread of the coronavirus , even as new hot spots emerge and experts warn that moving too fast could prove disastrous.
Adding to the pressure are protests against stay-at-home orders organised by small-government groups and Trump supporters. They staged demonstrations Saturday in several cities after the president urged them to "liberate" three states led by Democratic governors.
Protests happened in Republican-led states, too, including at the Texas Capitol and in front of the Indiana governor's home. Texas governor Greg Abbott already said that restrictions will begin easing next week. Indiana governor Eric Holcomb who signed an agreement with six other Midwestern states to coordinate reopening said he would extend his stay-at-home order until 1 May.
For the first time in weeks, people were able to visit some Florida beaches, but they were still subject to restrictions on hours and activities. Beaches in big cities stayed closed. Meanwhile, infections kept surging in the North East. Rhode Island, between the hot spots of Massachusetts and New York, has seen a steady daily increase in infections and deaths, with nursing home residents accounting for more than 90 of the state's 118 deaths.
The state's death rate of around 10 people per 100,000 is among the nation's highest per capita, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project.
Massachusetts had its highest number of deaths in a single day on Friday, with 159. Republican governor Charlie Baker, citing health experts' advice, said states should wait until infection rates and hospitalisations decline for about two weeks before acting.
Trump, whose administration waited months to bolster stockpiles of key medical supplies and equipment, appeared to back protesters.
Trump said in a tweet-storm, in which he also lashed out at New York governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, for criticising the federal response. Cuomo should spend more time 'doing' and less time 'complaining,' the president said.
At his Saturday briefing with reporters, Cuomo cited more progress. The state's daily increase in deaths fell below 550 for the first time in more than two weeks as hospitalisations continued to decline. But the crisis is far from over: Hospitals are still reporting nearly 2,000 new COVID-19 patients per day, and nursing homes remain a feeding frenzy for this virus, he said.
We are not at a point when we are going to be reopening anything immediately, Cuomo said. Several hundred people rallied in Texas' capital, chanting Let us work! Many clamored for an immediate lifting of restrictions in a state where more than 1 million have filed for unemployment since the crisis began.
The rally was organized by a host of Infowars, owned by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who joined protesters on the Capitol steps. Jones is being sued in Austin over using his show to promote falsehoods that the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut was a hoax.
In Indianapolis, more than 200 people stood close together outside the governor's mansion, carrying American flags and signs demanding that Governor Holcomb lift restrictions. Indiana's state health department reported 529 new cases between 7 April and midday Friday, raising the total to more than 10,600. The number of deaths rose by 26, to 545.
Elsewhere, a few hundred demonstrators waved signs outside the Statehouse in New Hampshire, which has had nearly 1,300 cases of the virus and more than three dozen deaths. Even if the virus were 10 times as dangerous as it is, I still wouldn't stay inside my home. I'd rather take the risk and be a free person, said one of the protesters, talk show host Ian Freeman.
Trump is pushing to relax the US lockdown by 1 May, a plan that hinges partly on more testing. Public health officials said the ability to test enough people and trace contacts of the infected is crucial before easing restrictions, and that infections could surge anew unless people continue to take precautions.
Vice President Mike Pence delivered a commencement address at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado, a trip aimed at showing the country is on course to gradually reopen. Major cities in Brazil also saw protests Saturday by hundreds of people denouncing pandemic lockdown measures also opposed by President Jair Bolsonaro, a fierce critic of stay-at-home measures imposed by state governments.
In Asia, some nations that until recently appeared to have the outbreak under control reported fresh flareups. Singapore reported a sharp, one-day spike of 942 infections, the highest in Southeast Asia, mostly among foreign workers staying in crowded dormitories. That brought the total to almost 6,000 in the city-state of 6 million.
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