Experts condemn Trump's 'Opening Up America Again' strategy

17 April 2020, 10:45

President Trump announced his plan at Friday's press conference
President Trump announced his plan at Friday's press conference. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Leading figures from medicine, business and politics have condemned President Trump's three point plan for "Opening Up America Again".

The US leader announced the plan during Thursday's White House coronavirus press conference.

He said the US is in the process of "winning the war" against coronavirus and that the US is ready to "begin the next front in this war".

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"We're calling it 'Opening Up America Again'," he said of the country's three-point plan, where each phase will be separated by 14 days.

It comes as the US is now widely considered the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak, with both the most deaths and the highest number of confirmed cases. It also has the greatest daily death toll.

Phase one has been labelled 'For States and Regions That Satisfy Gating Criteria', in which vulnerable people will be advised to continue sheltering in their homes, social distancing should still be observed and socialising in groups of more than 10 should be avoided. People will also return to work in phases.

For the second phase, labelled 'For States and Regions With No Evidence Of A Rebound And That Satisfy The Gating Criteria A Second Time', all vulnerable individuals will still be advised to stay at home. Social distancing should still be observed, but people can socialise in groups of up to 50. Non-essential travel will be free to resume and schools will reopen.

In phase three, labelled 'For States and Regions With No Evidence Of A Rebound And That Satisfy The Gating Criteria A Third Time', vulnerable people will be free to resume public interactions but should continue to physically distance. Visiting care facilities and hospitals will resume and venues, gyms and bars can remain open so long as "they adhere to standard sanitation protocols".

Trump laid out his plans in front of the press
Trump laid out his plans in front of the press. Picture: PA

US legislators have had a mixed response to the decision, with some expressing their concerns and urging the president not to sacrifice public health in an effort to reopen the economy.

"My highest priority on this task force will be to ensure the federal government's efforts to reopen our economy are bipartisan, data-driven, and based on the expertise of public health professionals," said Democratic Sen Mark Warner of Virginia.

However, t governors of Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky have announced they will work together to reopen the region.

"We recognise that our economies are all reliant on each other, and we must work together to safely reopen them so hardworking people can get back to work and businesses can get back on their feet," they said in a joint statement.

"I'm concerned that this plan is laying out what needs to happen, without saying how it's going to happen and what the federal role is," Jeremy Konyndyk, former director of USAID's Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance under the Obama Administration, told CNN.

He said that the 10-page plan offers no specifics on how testing capabilities, contact tracing, and access to personal protective equipment (PPE) would be ramped up to the massive levels needed to relax shutdowns.

"We need a much more detailed implementation plan. It's fine to say the states need much greater access to PPE. How are they going to get that?

"There are these bottlenecks we are facing now that are not being resolved," he went on.

Irwin Redlener, a public health professor at Columbia University, told CNN that Trump's guidelines are meaningless until testing is being performed on a large scale. 

"The governors, all 50 of them, would be wise to ignore the President's advice until we can do at least one to two million rapid diagnostic tests per week,' he wrote.

He also called for high level contact tracing before any loosening of measures is considered.

Dr Deborah Birx also participated in the conference
Dr Deborah Birx also participated in the conference. Picture: PA

Business leaders, too, raised concerns to the president in a round of calls on Wednesday, warning that a dramatic increase in testing and wider availability of protective equipment will be necessary before they can safely revive operations.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in a note to shareholders early Thursday, wrote: Regular testing on a global scale, across all industries, would both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running.”

“For this to work, we as a society would need vastly more testing capacity than is currently available."

Medical experts have also stated that the plan could lead to a second or third wave that could kill even more people.

Dr Tom Moore, a former board member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said: “To avoid a second wave of viral spread you have to do what South Korea and other countries, including Germany, have done. You have to have testing in place, and aggressive testing."

“We don’t have to test everybody, but we definitely need to test a significant portion of the community.

“This is a Herculean task. I don’t know how it’s going to be solved in the immediate future, but it needs to be," he said.

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The federal guidelines come after seven governors in the Midwest announced they will coordinate on reopening the economy, after similar pacts were announced earlier this week in the West and Northeast.

President Trump held conference calls earlier on Thursday with politicians he named to a new congressional advisory task force.

The economic costs were clear in new federal data showing that at least 22 million Americans have been thrown out of work in the last month.