The Trump administration seems to want to ease off coronavirus prevention measures to protect the crashing economy

President Donald Trump speaks during press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House, Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Washington. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, right, and Vice President Mike Pence listen. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Evan Vucci/AP

President Donald Trump at a coronavirus briefing on March 19, 2020, with Vice President Mike Pence and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn.

  • President Donald Trump hinted at a major shift in the US' coronavirus policy in a tweet late on Sunday. 
  • In a White House briefing on March 16, Trump set out social distancing measures he said Americans should observe for 15 days to slow the spread of the disease. 
  • The restrictions have devastated the US economy, with Americans urged to avoid bars, shops and restaurants as well as travel. 
  • Vice President Mike Pence has said the restrictions on some Americans going to work could be lifted Monday, as the shutdown caused stock markets to plunge. 
  • The coronavirus is still spreading rapidly in the US, where there have been more than 35,000 confirmed cases.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump in a tweet on Sunday hinted at a major shift in US policy on combatting the coronavirus, writing that "WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF." 

In the all-caps tweet near midnight, Trump continued that "AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!"

The period Trump seemed to refer to began on March 16, when in a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House the president announced "new guidelines for every American to follow over the next 15 days as we combat the virus." It will end on March 31. 

The "social distancing" guidelines urged Americans to work from home where possible, and avoid social gatherings and trips to bars and restaurants as part of a series of measures to slow the spread of the disease.

They are much less severe than those in other countries with comparable outbreaks, though some cities and states have gone further on their own initiative.

Manhattan lockdown

REUTERS/Jeenah Moon/File Photo

An empty street is seen in Manhattan borough following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New York City, U.S., March 15, 2020.

As the US economy plummets, with mass layoffs and businesses across the country closed until further notice, it seems patience in the White House is wearing thin. 

Bloomberg, citing sources familiar with the president's thinking, reported Monday that Trump last week had considered slackening some of the restrictions.

Among those who back Trump are Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, according to the report, while NIAID director Anthony Fauci believes that keeping the measures in place is the only way to defeat the virus. 

Earlier on Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House's coronavirus task force, said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would announce that people exposed to the virus could be allowed to return to work if they wear a mask for a certain period. 

Yamiche Alcindor, PBS News' White House correspondent, tweeted that the ease-up on the restrictions would be announced Monday. 

Gary Cohn, the former Director of the National Economic Council, tweeted on Sunday that businesses needed a clear timeframe for how long the measures would last. 

"Is it time to start discussing the need for a date when the economy can turn back on? Policymakers have taken bold public health & economic actions to address the #coronavirus, but businesses need clarity. Otherwise they will assume the worst and make decisions to survive," he wrote. 

The economic forecasts make grim reading, with JP Morgan predicting a 14% Q2 slump, the biggest in US history.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board on March 19 wrote that "federal and state officials need to start adjusting their anti-virus strategy now to avoid an economic recession that will dwarf the harm from 2008-2009 [The Great Recession]."

The prospect of easing restrictions, has alarmed some experts. Public health officials have refused to put a timeline on how long the restrictions could last, with Fauci in an interview last week saying it could be "several weeks."

Wuhan, in China, is just beginning to slacken its harsh lockdown rules after two months. European countries are also preparing for a long period of restrictions after implementing harsh lockdowns in the past two weeks. 

The latest figures from sources including Johns Hopkins University show coronavirus infections in the US continuing to rise sharply, with 34,354 recorded in the US and 414 deaths as of early March 23.

The lack of widespread testing in the early days of the outbreak means the full number of people infected in the US is likely higher. 

Tom Bossert, a former Department of Homeland Security adviser on Monday, tweeted: "Sadly, the numbers now suggest the U.S. is poised to take the lead in #coronavirus cases. It's reasonable to plan for the US to top the list of countries with the most cases in approximately 1 week. This does NOT make social intervention futile. It makes it imperative!" 


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