US to allow federal social distancing guidelines to expire

Trump seeks to further distance himself from increasingly unpopular and politically costly coronavirus lockdowns.

    United States President Donald Trump departs following a coronavirus response news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC, the US [Carlos Barria/Reuters]
    United States President Donald Trump departs following a coronavirus response news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC, the US [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

    United States President Donald Trump said the federal government will not be extending its coronavirus social distancing guidelines once they expire on Thursday, further distancing his administration from increasingly unpopular and contentious stay-at-home orders and economic lockdowns across the country.

    To underscore his confidence that the country has turned the tide, Trump announced that he plans to resume out-of-state travel after spending more than a month mostly confined to the White House, starting with a trip next week to Arizona, a battleground state in the November election, and possibly Ohio, another key swing state.

    He also said he hopes to begin holding the mass campaign rallies that have been a hallmark of both his earlier campaigns and his presidency.

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    The decision to let the federal guidelines expire leaves social distancing guidelines up to individual states, some of which have already started opening.

    "They’ll be fading out because now the governors are doing it," Trump said during a White House meeting with John Bel Edwards, the Democratic governor of Louisiana, on Wednesday. 

    Trump and certain governors have been locked in disputes over the allocation of needed medical supplies, including tests and personal protective equipment, to help the fight against the coronavirus.

    US hospitals
    Healthcare professionals prepare to screen people for the coronavirus at a testing site erected by the Maryland National Guard in a car park [Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP] 

    Maryland's Republican Governor Larry Hogan, head of the National Governor's Association, has repeatedly called on the federal government to do more to aid states. 

    "The administration made it clear over and over again they want the states to take the lead, and we have to go out and do it ourselves, and that's exactly what we did," Hogan told reporters last week.

    Return to campaigning

    The White House has been trying to pivot to a new stage of the crisis, focused on efforts to reopen the nation's economy state-by-state amid concerns that lifting restrictions too quickly and without sufficient testing and contact tracing will spur a resurgence.

    The country has dramatically improved its testing after a slow and rocky start, but many health experts say the country still must do more - as many as five million tests a day - to safely reopen. Otherwise, they warn, coronavirus cases will skyrocket as Americans return to work.

    States like Georgia, South Carolina and Alaska have allowed some businesses to reopen while maintaining social distancing. Most of the 50 states will reopen in some fashion within the next month.

    Watch: Trump resists pressure to curtail his coronavirus briefings

     

    The strong US economy has long been Trump's top selling point as a candidate. But the coronavirus pandemic has slowed it greatly, with an estimated 30 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits since the crisis began. 

    While he experienced an initial "rally around the flag" effect at the start of the crisis, Trump's raucous press briefings and controversial claims have pushed down those approval ratings more recently. 

    This, coupled with a stalled economy, could present significant challenges for Trump's re-election campaign. 

    "I don't want people to get used to this," Trump said to reporters at the White House on Wednesday. "I see the new normal being what it was three months ago."

    "We're going to start to move around and hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we'll have some massive rallies and people will be sitting next to each other," he said, adding that having people spaced out in accordance with social distancing guidelines "wouldn't look too good".

    He didn't say exactly when he envisioned such rallies returning, but said the timing would depend, in part, on the states, since some have had far fewer cases than others.

    Cases in the US are still rising dramatically. The country now has over one million confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. That is a third of the global total, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Deaths have surpassed 61,000 as of April 30.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies