Donald Trump doubled down on his pledge to end a national shutdown over the coronavirus, arguing on Tuesday that a prolonged economic lapse could “destroy” the United States as he vowed to open the country by Easter.
“We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu, we don’t turn the country off,” Mr Trump said during a Fox News virtual town hall from the White House. “We lose thousands of people a year to the flu. We have to get back to work. … The faster we go back, the better” because it would be “too difficult” to re-start the economy following a prolonged shutdown.
A White House-established 15-day shutdown period ends on Monday, and Mr Trump has signalled he will consider a partial re-opening order then. A full order to get back to regular business could come a few weeks after that, he added.
“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” the president said of 12 April.
The president at times appeared to dismiss any and all advice brought to him in recent weeks by his public health team. Many public health experts have warned that the outbreak could get much worse, with potentially hundreds of thousands of Americans being infected with COVID-19 by the end of the year.
No matter to the president, who is focused on the coronavirus death toll.
“They came in and they said ‘sir, we’re going to have to close the country,'” he said. “I said are, ‘You serious about this? We are going to take this country that’s fully employed … and you’re telling me that we’re going to have to close it?'”
“You’re going to lose more people by putting the country into a massive recession,” Mr Trump said, predicting “suicides by the thousands” if people are forced to mostly stay at home for months.
He made the claim for the second consecutive day – neither time citing supporting data like a government or academic study.
Also like on Monday night, the president contended most Americans can go back to work while also “practising good judgement,” meaning he is banking that people would automatically continue to practice “social distancing” and vigorous hand-washing.
But it is not clear that local and state officials would even be bound to an order to open businesses.
Mr Trump said as much on Monday night, saying those officials would have substantial say in how they handle the situation in their areas.