WASHINGTON, March 24 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump's remarks that he wants the U.S. economy to open back up in about three weeks has sparked controversy, as experts argued that hasty measures could dampen the efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.
"We're opening up this incredible country. Because we have to do that. I would love to have it open by Easter," Trump said Tuesday in a Fox News virtual town hall event at the White House. Easter falls on April 12 this year.
In a tweet earlier in the day, the U.S. president said "our people want to return to work." They will practice social distancing and all else, and seniors will be watched over "protectively and lovingly," he said.
"We can do two things together," Trump continued. "The cure cannot be worse (by far) than the problem!"
Trump's remarks came as more and more state and local officials have shutdown nonessential businesses and ordered residents to stay at home, in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
Public health experts, among others, voiced criticism of the president's remarks. Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University, tweeted that variability in COVID-19 incidence nationally poses risks of going back to work, school and travel, and easing physical distancing early could trigger surge in cases and deaths.
"We can't know what COVID-19 transmission will be in 4 weeks, but it's likely to be worse, not better. Even if cases peak or drop in some areas, it will rise in others," said Gostin, who also serves as director of the World Health Organization collaborating center on national and global health law.
Scott Gottlieb, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said there is "a strong and understandable desire" to return to better times and a functioning economy.
"But it should not be lost on anyone that there's no such thing as a functioning economy and society so long as COVID-19 continues to spread uncontrolled in our biggest cities," Gottlieb said.
Despite serious concerns on restarting the economy, some argued that the economic consequences would be significant if restrictive measures last longer.
"For a small segment of our population, it's true, the coronavirus can kill you," Louisiana Republican Senator John Kennedy said on Fox News. "But you know what else can kill you? Poverty, hunger, losing the entire economy."
Lloyd Blankfein, former chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, wrote on Twitter earlier that extreme measures to flatten the virus "curve" is sensible -- for a time -- to stretch out the strain on health infrastructure.
"But crushing the economy, jobs and morale is also a health issue -- and beyond," Blankfein said. "Within a very few weeks let those with a lower risk to the disease return to work."
In a White House briefing Tuesday afternoon, Trump said he still wants to open the country for businesses by Easter, though stressing that the decision would ultimately be made in consultation with his public health experts team.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, said at the briefing that there may be flexibility in certain areas of the country and need for data in order to lift restrictions.
"You can look at a date but you've got to be very flexible and on a literally day-by-day and week-by-week basis," said Fauci, also a member of the White House's coronavirus task force. "You need to evaluate the feasibility of what you're trying to do."
The United States has reported more than 53,000 cases as of Tuesday, ranking third worldwide, behind China and Italy, according to a data tracking tool developed by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University. The death toll has exceeded 700.
According to a forecast released by the Institute of International Finance on Monday, the United States is already in recession, with negative growth in the first quarter and large contractions in the second quarter. For the whole year, the U.S. economy is expected to contract 2.8 percent, it said.
Flash U.S. Services Business Activity Index dropped 10.3 points to 39.1 points in March, the lowest in over a decade, London-based global information provider IHS Markit reported Tuesday, noting that "the marked decrease in new orders stemmed from sharp falls in client demand following the outbreak of COVID-19."
Tim Duy, an economics professor of the University of Oregon, said the sudden stop of the U.S. economy "is sending unemployment soaring," and initial claims for unemployment may exceed 2 million this week.
To cushion the economic impact, lawmakers have been negotiating a trillion-dollar-plus stimulus package, but the bill failed to advance in the Senate on Sunday night and again on Monday afternoon.
As Democrats and Republicans continue to hash out the details, Trump on Tuesday pressed lawmakers to reach an agreement as soon as possible.
"Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today," he tweeted. "The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy. Our workers will be hurt!"