U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that he was considering easing social distancing, a measure that was introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19, and it has sparked debates over when and how it should be done. It appears that President Trump is determined to scale back the restrictions in place in an attempt to revive economic activity, despite warnings of health experts that the virus outbreak could spiral out of control causing many deaths.
President Trump emphasized at a press conference on Monday that he would not “let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” meaning he would prevent containment measures from taking a heavier toll than the virus itself. He also said that he would consider loosening restrictions on social distancing as early as late this month, adding that the world’s number one economy should not be shut down and many of the 160 million U.S. jobs were at risk. When asked about the timing, he said, “A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting.”
The reason why the Trump administration is considering easing the restrictions on social distancing is because its economy is in a dire situation. James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, warned that the unemployment in the United States could hit 30 percent in the second quarter of the year while the GDP could plummet by 50 percent. Morgan Stanley also predicted Sunday a 30-percent drop in the GDP could happen in the second quarter of the year. Some say people would starve to death if not killed by COVID-19. According to Bloomberg, the coronavirus task force led by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has been considering loosening restrictions since later last week due to concerns over the economy.
Meanwhile, debates over social distancing have also begun in the nation. Thomas Friedman, a columnist of the New York Times, introduced arguments against physical distancing measures, raising the need to expand the debates. “A population-wide case fatality rate of 0.05% is lower than seasonal influenza,” said Dr. John Ioannidis of the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford. “If that is the true rate, locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational.” On the other hand, Dr. Lawrence Summers, president emeritus of Harvard University and former Treasury Secretary, pointed out that the current chaos is the result of the coronavirus, not of government measures, adding that this does not have to be an issue of money verses life at this stage.
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