WASHINGTON — As the United States entered Week 2 of trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus by shuttering large swaths of the economy, President Trump, Wall Street executives and many conservative economists began questioning whether the government had gone too far and should instead lift restrictions that are already inflicting deep pain on workers and businesses.
Consensus continues to grow among government leaders and health officials that the best way to defeat the virus is to order nonessential businesses to close and residents to confine themselves at home. Britain, after initially resisting such measures, essentially locked down its economy on Monday, as did the governors of Virginia, Michigan and Oregon. More than 100 million Americans will soon be subject to stay-at-home orders.
Relaxing those restrictions could significantly increase the death toll from the virus, public health officials warn. Many economists say there is no positive trade-off — resuming normal activity prematurely would only strain hospitals and result in even more deaths, while exacerbating a recession that has most likely already arrived.
On Monday, Mr. Trump said his administration would reassess whether to keep the economy shuttered after the initial 15-day period ends next Monday, saying it could extend another week and that certain parts of the country could reopen sooner than others, depending on the extent of infections.
“You can’t stop the economy forever,” Mr. Cuomo said in a news conference on Monday. “So we have to start to think about does everyone stay out of work? Should young people go back to work sooner? Can we test for those who had the virus, resolved, and are now immune and can they start to go back to work?”
Any push to loosen the new limits on commerce and movement would contradict the consensus advice of public health officials, risking a surge in infections and deaths from the virus. Many economists warn that abruptly reopening the economy could backfire, overwhelming an already stressed health care system, sowing uncertainty among consumers, and ultimately dealing deeper, longer-lasting damage to growth.
The recent rise of cases in Hong Kong, after there had been an easing of the spread of the virus, is something of an object lesson about how ending strict measures too soon can have dangerous consequences. Yet places like China, which took the idea of lockdown to the extreme, have managed to flatten the curve.
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