CORONAVIRUS

Trump says COVID-19 outbreak could last months and gatherings should be limited to 10 people

Reporters raise their hands to ask President Donald Trump a question during a press briefing with the coronavirus task f
Reporters raise their hands to ask President Donald Trump a question during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House, Monday, March 16, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Daily life in the United States continues to grind to a halt as authorities scramble to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Across the world, countries are taking drastic steps, shutting their borders to travelers and enforcing quarantine requirements. Yet local transmission is on the rise in many places, especially Europe and the United States, demonstrating the difficulty of containing the virus.

President Donald Trump recommended that states with evidence of community transmission of the virus should close schools, as well as bars, restaurants, gyms and other gathering spots.

Officials warned that the outbreak could go on for months. Trump said it’s possible the economy will go into recession.”It isn’t an overreaction,” Anthony Fauci, a leading member of the president’s coronavirus task force, said of the recommendations released Monday.

“People are talking about July, August, something like that … could be longer than that,” Trump said one day after he said the virus was under control.

The president also said he is not planning a nationwide curfew, despite earlier reports that the administration may implement it.

“We haven’t really determined to do that at all and hopefully we won’t have to,” Trump said. “It’s a step we can take but hopefully we won’t.”

He told reporters “we were all surprised” by the advent of the infection that has spread from China across the globe. The president had a sober tone and seemed to have dropped a lot of the bravado he has employed when discussing the gravity of the pandemic. He said he had told one of his sons, who asked how bad the situation really is, that “It’s bad, it’s bad. But we are hopefully going to be a best case, not a worst case.”

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Earlier Monday, the Supreme Court is postponing oral arguments, major retailers are shutting their doors, and several U.S. cities have ordered bars and restaurants to close in last-ditch efforts to stem the spread of the virus.

“When you look at the projections, there’s every chance that we could be Italy,” the U.S. surgeon general warned Monday. Widespread social distancing could help change that trajectory, he said.

Adams said the United States is at “a critical inflection point” when it comes to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We have a choice to make as a nation: Do we want to go the direction of South Korea and really be aggressive and lower our mortality rates, or do we want to go the direction of Italy?” Adams said on “Fox and Friends.”

Italy is experiencing one of the world’s worst outbreaks, with nearly 25,000 cases forcing health officials to ration care. Already, more than 1,800 people have died.

As Fox host Steve Doocey mentioned the CDC’s recommendation to halt all gatherings of more than 50 people - a move that affects weddings, sports, concerts and other events - Adams said such moves were necessary if the United States wants to avoid Italy’s outcome and instead be more like South Korea “if people actually listen, if people actually social distance, if people do the basic public health measures that we’ve all been talking about as doctors all along, such as washing your hands, such as covering your cough, and cleaning surfaces.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging a nationwide halt to gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks. About 3,500 coronavirus cases have been reported in the United States, though experts believe the true number is much higher.

More people have now died of the coronavirus outside of China than inside, a worrying sign of how quickly the virus has spread beyond the country where it emerged.

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Meanwhile, the Supreme Court said it is postponing its next round of oral arguments, scheduled to begin Monday, because of concerns over the coronavirus. It is the first time the court has scheduled a pause in its work since 1918, when the Spanish flu epidemic hit Washington.

The court was scheduled to hold arguments March 23-25 and March 30-April 1. The most pressing case on the agenda is that last day: President Donald Trump’s challenge of efforts by congressional committees and a New York prosecutor to subpoena his financial records.

“The court will examine the options for rescheduling those cases in due course in light of the developing circumstances,” said a statement from the court’s public information office.

The justices will meet for their regularly schedule private conference on Friday, although some may participate via telephone.

The Supreme Court chamber holds about 500 people, and a majority of the justices are considered to be in the higher-risk category for the virus due to their ages. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg turned 87 on Sunday, and Justice Stephen Breyer is 81. Justice Clarence Thomas is 71, and Justice Samuel Alito turns 70 on April 1. Chief Justice John Roberts and Sonia Sotomayor are 65.

As the court’s news release noted, little is clear about how the postponement will affect the court’s work. It has one other two-week round of oral arguments scheduled to end April 29. Generally, the court doesn’t hold oral arguments after that, to concentrate on writing and issuing opinions in the cases it has heard since October.

The court usually finishes its work by the end of June, but nothing would prevent it from extending the term. It rarely strays from its schedule. When the rest of Washington shutters for snowstorms, the court carries on.

It held oral arguments in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy had closed the rest of official Washington. But the court’s statement noted that “postponement of argument sessions in light of public health concerns is not unprecedented.” Besides the 1918 recess, the court “also shortened its argument calendars in August 1793 and August 1798 in response to yellow fever outbreaks.”

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In Europe, the European Union proposed sharply restricting travel to most of continental Europe, blocking most non-E. U. residents for 30 days.

The plan would require final sign-off from E.U. leaders, which is likely to happen Tuesday. It would bar access to the 26 countries that are in the European Union’s borderless travel zone, which is most of continental Europe, except the Balkans.

“The less travel, the more we can contain the virus,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in announcing the proposal.

Europe has struggled to contain the coronavirus, with many countries erecting temporary border controls, wiping away decades of efforts to allow people and goods to travel unimpeded across much of the continent.

E.U. citizens and long-term residents would be allowed to return home under the proposal.

The decision would not affect Ireland nor the United Kingdom. President Trump last week closed U.S. borders to most non-U. S. citizens who had traveled within Europe in the past 14 days.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and other high-ranking officials held an unusual news conference on Monday, answering questions for children about the coronavirus pandemic.

The aim of the news conference, organized in conjunction with the children’s television channel NRK Super and the children’s paper Aftenposten Junior, was to reassure Norway’s young, Solberg said.

“It is OK to be scared when so many things happen at the same time,” she said, according to a translation from Reuters.

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In Washington, the White House said text message rumors circulating Sunday night of a mandatory national quarantine are false.

The messages, apparently intended to stoke apprehension in the midst of a pandemic, purported to pass along news from government officials that President Trump would order a two-week national quarantine. “Stock up on whatever you guys need to make sure you have a two week supply of everything,” said one text message.

The White House National Security Council tweeted out on Sunday night: “Text message rumors of a national #quarantine are FAKE. There is no national lockdown. @CDCgov has and will continue to post the latest.”

“There is an ongoing effort to spread disinformation and cause undue panic,” a senior administration official said Monday. “There is no national quarantine for the United States. It’s important we remain vigilant in ensuring our information is coming from verified sources.”

Misinformation researchers in recent days began detecting texts and social media references to alleged plans to impose new, dramatic government restrictions on the ability of people to move, shop and socialize. Among the most widespread concerns claims that Trump shortly would invoke the Stafford Act, a 1988 disaster relief law, to impose a mandatory quarantine on the entire nation.

Some of these references - which are misleading and not based in fact, according to officials - also have begun to appear on Twitter and other social media platforms but typically as images that have been difficult to track using research tools designed to read and interpret written language.

After reports over the weekend that the United States was attempting to secure the rights to any coronavirus vaccine developed by a German pharmaceutical company, German politicians offered strong rebukes on Monday.

The country’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, told the Funke newspaper group that “we cannot allow others to secure exclusive rights to the results of [German company’s] research” on vaccines or drugs.

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Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, when asked to confirm a report that the Trump administration was attempting to secure exclusive rights to any vaccine created by the German biopharmaceutical firm CureVac, said he had “heard from several other members of government today that is the case.” He added the government will discuss the matter during a regular emergency meeting on Monday.

Eric Mamer, the spokesman of the European Commission, said on Monday that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will have a phone call with executives of CureVac.

“It is clear that the phone call which is taking place this afternoon is related to ensuring that this company can continue to operate and to do its research in Europe,” Mamer told reporters. The call will follow a Group of Seven video-conference session meant to coordinate research efforts of the world’s most powerful economies on the covid-19 outbreak, Mamer said.

In a statement, CureVac said it “rejects allegations about offers for acquisition of the company or its technology.”

Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper had reported Sunday that the Trump administration wanted to secure the rights and move research and development to the United States. The vaccine would be developed “only for the USA,” the newspaper said.

The European Union is proposing that nonessential travel to most of the continent be restricted for 30 days. “The less travel, the more we can contain the virus,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

U.S. markets fell sharply, despite the Federal Reserve’s emergency interest rate cut to zero.

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