The global health crisis is taking a nasty political turn with tensions worsening between governments locked down to keep the coronavirus at bay and people yearning to restart stalled economies and forestall fears of a depression.
Protesters worrying about their livelihoods and bucking infringements on their freedom took to the streets in some places. A few countries were acting to ease restrictions, but most of the world remains unified in insisting it’s much too early to take more aggressive steps.
In the United States, there was clear evidence of the mounting pressure. The Trump administration says parts of the country are ready to begin a gradual return to normalcy. Yet some state leaders say their response to the pandemic is hindered by a woefully inadequate federal response.
Washington state’s Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, even accused President Donald Trump of encouraging insubordination and “illegal activity” by goading on protesters who flouted shelter-in-place rules.
“To have an American president to encourage people to violate the law, I can’t remember any time during my time in America where we have seen such a thing,” Inslee told ABC’s “This Week.” He said it was “dangerous because it can inspire people to ignore things that actually can save their lives.”
Trump supporters in several states ignored social distancing and stay-at-home orders, gathering to demand that governors lift controls on public activity. The largest protest drew thousands to Lansing, Mich., on Wednesday, and others have featured hundreds each in several states. The president has invoked their rallying cry, calling on several states with Democratic governors to “LIBERATE.”
Vice President Mike Pence sidestepped questions Sunday about why Trump seemed to be encouraging efforts to undermine preventive measures his own government has promoted. Inslee nonetheless likened Trump’s response to “schizophrenia.” Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, said it “just doesn’t make any sense.”
“We’re sending completely conflicting messages out to the governors and to the people, as if we should ignore federal policy and federal recommendations,” Hogan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Shutdowns that began in China in late January and spread globally have disrupted economic, social, cultural and religious life and plunged the world into a deep economic slump unseen since the Great Depression. Tens of millions of workers have lost their jobs and millions more fear they’ll be next.
With the arc of infection different in every nation and across U.S. states, proposals have differed for coping with the virus that has killed more than 163,000.
Restrictions have begun to ease in some places, including Germany, which is still enforcing social distancing rules but on Monday intended to begin allowing some small stores, like those selling furniture and baby goods, to reopen.
Authorities in Spain, which had some of Europe’s strictest restrictions and a virus death toll only exceeded by the U.S. and Italy, said children will be allowed to leave their homes beginning April 27. Albania planned to let its mining and oil industries reopen Monday, along with hundreds of businesses including small retailers, food and fish factories, farmers and fishing boats.
The death toll in the U.S. climbed toward 40,000 with more than 740,000 confirmed infections, while the global case count has passed 2.3 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University of national health reports. The European Center for Disease Control said the continent now has more than 1 million confirmed cases and almost 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus.
The actual extent of the pandemic is likely to be significantly higher due to mild infections that are missed, limited testing, problems counting the dead and some nations’ desires to underplay the extent of their outbreaks.
The International Monetary Fund expects the global economy to contract 3% this year. That’s a far bigger loss than 2009’s 0.1% after the global financial crisis. Still, many governments are resisting pressures to abruptly relax lockdowns.
“We must not let down our guard until the last confirmed patient is recovered,” South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said Sunday.
In Britain, which reported 596 more coronavirus-related hospital deaths on Sunday, officials also said they’re not ready to ease efforts to curb the virus’s spread. U.K. minister Michael Gove told the BBC that pubs and restaurants “will be among the last” to leave the lockdown, which is now in place until May 7.
France’s health agency urged the public to stick to social distancing measures that have been extended until at least May 11 and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said people could be required to wear masks on public transportation, and suggested no one plan faraway summer vacations even after that.
Trump is pushing to begin easing the U.S. lockdown in some states even before his own May 1 deadline, a plan that health experts and governors from both parties say will require a dramatic increase in testing capacity nationwide. But Pence insisted in television interviews Sunday that the country has “sufficient testing today” for states to begin reopening their economies as part of the initial phases of guidelines that the White House released last week.
The Trump administration has repeatedly blamed state leaders for delays, but governors from both parties have been begging the federal government for help securing in-demand testing supplies such as swabs and chemicals known as reagents. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio made a direct appeal to Washington: “We really need help … to take our capacity up,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., said his state can’t begin lifting restrictions until it is able to test more people daily. “Right now, we’re not even close as a nation, let alone as a state, to where we should be on testing,” he said.
Trump pushed back in a tweet before his scheduled Sunday evening briefing at the White House. “I am right on testing. Governors must be able to step up and get the job done. We will be with you ALL THE WAY!” he wrote.
Economic concerns that have increasingly collided with measures to protect public health are now popping up throughout the U.S.
Business leaders in Louisiana have slammed New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell for imposing restrictions that they say have unfairly shuttered economic activity outside the city. A full-page ad in Baton Rouge’s “The Advocate” newspaper on Sunday urged an easing of lockdowns, even as the New Orleans Times-Picayune featured nearly nine pages of obituaries in a city hard-hit by the virus.
States including Texas and Indiana have announced plans to allow some retail and other activity to resume and some restrictions were either lifted or set to be on beaches in Florida and South Carolina. But in New York, where the daily coronavirus death toll hit its lowest point in more than two weeks on Sunday, officials warn that New York City and the rest of the hard-hit state aren’t ready to ease shutdowns of schools, businesses and gatherings.
Geopolitical and religious tensions stretching back centuries have further complicated the global response to the virus. But Jordan’s King Abdullah II said the outbreak has made “partners” out of “our enemies of yesterday, or those that were not friendly countries yesterday — whether we like it or not.”
“I think the quicker we as leaders and politicians figure that out, the quicker we can bring this under control,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”