Coronavirus: Hundreds protest against US rules amid spreading resentment

Texas became the latest US state Saturday hit by a protest largely from supporters of President Donald Trump anxious to get back to work, while the governor of New York said his coronavirus-battered state may finally be past the worst there.
Protesters gather at the Texas State Capital building on April 18, 2020 in Austin, Texas.
Protesters gather at the Texas State Capital building on April 18, 2020 in Austin, Texas.PHOTO: AFP

CONCORD, UNITED STATES (AFP) - Hundreds of people demonstrated on Saturday (April 18) in cities across America against coronavirus-related lockdowns - with encouragement from President Donald Trump - as resentment grows against the crippling economic cost of prolonged confinement.

An estimated 400 people gathered under a cold rain in Concord, New Hampshire - many on foot while others remained in their cars - to send a message that extended quarantines were not necessary in a state with relatively few confirmed cases of Covid-19, an AFP photographer reported.

The crowd included several armed men wearing military-style uniforms, with their faces covered.

In Texas, more than 250 people rallied outside the State Capitol in Austin, including far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, founder of the Infowars site, who rolled up in a tank-like truck. 

“It’s time to reopen Texas, it’s time to let people work, it’s time for them to let voluntary interaction and good sense rule the day, not government force,” said Justin Greiss, an activist with Young Americans for Liberty.

Stay-at-home mother Amira Abuzeid added: “I’m not a doctor but I’m an intelligent person who can do math and it looks like at the end of the day, these numbers are not that worrisome.”

Demonstrators outside Maryland’s colonial-era statehouse in Annapolis stayed in their cars but waved signs with messages like “Poverty kills too.”

Dolores, a hairdresser, told AFP she is not eligible for unemployment because she is a business owner, not an employee. “I need to save my business. I need to work to live. Otherwise I will die,” she said.

Other demonstrations took place across the country in cities such as Columbus, Ohio and San Diego, California, as well as the states of Indiana, Nevada and Wisconsin. 

Few if any observed social distancing recommendations but many of the protesters waved American flags. 

Protesters have drawn encouragement in certain Democratic-led states from tweets by Trump, who has said he favours a quick return to normal, though the protests also took place in Republican-led states like New Hampshire and Texas. 

The US has seen more coronavirus cases and deaths than any other country in the world – with more than 734,000 confirmed infections and 38,800 fatalities as of Saturday evening. 

The vast majority of Americans are under lockdown orders restricting public movement and keeping all but essential businesses closed.

In Concord, demonstrators carried signs with slogans like “The numbers lie” and “Reopen New Hampshire.” Their common demand was that the stay-at-home order for the state of 1.3 million people be called off before its scheduled May 4 end date.

'LIVE FREE OR DIE'

Others, amid a sea of American flags, chanted the state's Revolutionary War-era slogan, "Live Free or Die." 

"People are very happy on a voluntary basis to do what's necessary," one demonstrator, 63-year-old Skip Murphy, told AFP by phone.

He added, however, that "the data does not support the egregious lockdown we are having in New Hampshire."

He said only the south-eastern part of the state, near the Boston metropolitan area, had an elevated incidence of the disease, and he argued that the rest of the state, with far fewer cases, should be exempted from confinement orders.

 
 
 

As of Friday morning, New Hampshire had reported 1,287 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 37 deaths.

'FREE COUNTRY'

"What about our constitutional rights?" Murphy said.

"All over the country, a lot of people are saying, 'We will do our part, but at the same time this is supposed to be a free country'.

"When that gets transgressed, people start to say, 'Wait a minute, this is wrong'."

Most Americans - by a two-to-one margin - actually worry about virus restrictions being lifted too soon, not too late, a recent Pew survey found.

But demonstrators found encouragement Friday from the president himself, who in a series of tweets called to "LIBERATE" Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia - all states with Democratic governors - from stay-at-home orders.

Trump has repeatedly called for the earliest possible return to normality as virus-related closings have had a crushing impact on American workers and businesses.

“I really think some of the governors have gotten carried away,” Trump said at a White House news conference on Saturday.

 

But public health officials warn that too quick an easing of restrictions could allow a disastrous resurgence of the virus.

The largest protest against stay-at-home rules so far took place Wednesday in the Michigan capital of Lansing, where some 3,000 people demonstrated against confinement orders from Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Murphy said he had voted for Trump, but insisted his motives were not partisan. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu is a Republican, he noted.

"This has nothing to do with Trump or the Democrat and Republican governors," Murphy said.

"It is a case of one size not fitting all - the lockdown should cease where it does not make sense."