Curfews as US shuts down to fight coronavirus

People drive past a traffic sign on a freeway in Los Angeles on March 16, 2020. The city is closing bars, restaurants and nightclubs for at least two weeks. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP, REUTERS) - The United States began restricting citizens' movements on Monday (March 16) in a major escalation of attempts to contain the deadly coronavirus pandemic, as President Donald Trump warned the crisis could last well into the summer.

New Jersey state and San Francisco announced curfews and Mr Trump asked Americans to restrict gatherings to groups of fewer than 10 as the US dramatically ramped up efforts to stop the spread of the fast-moving outbreak.

Mr Trump acknowledged for the first time that the US economy "may be" heading into a recession because of the pandemic that has killed more than 7,000 people worldwide as Wall Street stocks had their worst day since 1987, plunging almost 13 per cent.

As America followed European nations in shutting down schools, public buildings, cinemas, restaurants and bars, Mr Trump suggested the crisis would last several months at least in the US.

"So it seems to me that if we do a really good job... people are talking about July, August, something like that," he told reporters at the White House.

"So it could be right in that period of time where it, I say, it washes through."

As the outbreak in the US continued to spread, the US Food and Drug Administration on Monday took a step towards speeding the development of coronavirus test kits, agreeing a regulatory change to give states the ability to approve tests developed in laboratories in the states.

The new policy gives states the option to take responsibility for tests developed and used by laboratories in their states, similar to the action the FDA granted last week to the New York state Department of Health, the official said.

"The purpose is to achieve more rapid testing capacity in the United States," said an official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.


Mr Trump's comments came after Canada announced it was closing its borders to most foreign travellers and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he was restricting movement across the state, which borders New York City.

"Effective tonight, all other non-essential retail, recreational, and entertainment businesses must close after 8.00pm," said Mr Murphy.

"All non-essential and non-emergency travel in New Jersey is strongly discouraged between the hours of 8.00pm and 5.00am. This will remain in effect for the foreseeable future. We want everyone to be home - and not out," he added.

An almost empty street is seen at Times Square in Manhattan on March 16, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

Later, San Francisco passed a "remain-in-place" order requiring millions of residents to stay at home unless absolutely essential.

Before the twin announcements, only the US territory of Puerto Rico had imposed a curfew - from 9pm to 5am - along with the closure of malls, movie theatres, gyms and bars.

The White House denied reports that Mr Trump was considering a nationwide lockdown but the president said he might ask the military to help build temporary hospitals.

He added that postponing elections over the coronavirus crisis was "unnecessary", even as Ohio's governor called for the state's presidential primary vote scheduled for Tuesday to be delayed.

Normally bustling streets, transport networks and roads were eerily quiet across US cities on Monday as employees worked from home and children contemplated weeks with no classes to attend.

New York - usually the city that never sleeps - began hunkering down for an extended period of inactivity with all nightclubs, theatres, cinemas and concert venues ordered to close from Tuesday.


Mayor Bill de Blasio said late on Sunday that the Big Apple's normally hectic bars and restaurants would be restricted to take-out and delivery only.

He also bowed to pressure and announced the closure of New York's schools, which educate 1.1 million students, until April 20.

Los Angeles is also closing bars, restaurants and nightclubs for at least two weeks, while California's Governor Gavin Newsom asked people over the age of 65 to self-isolate.

The governor of Illinois, which includes the city of Chicago, announced that bars and restaurants would close until March 30.

Several major Las Vegas casinos and hotels were shuttered, and party town New Orleans issued guidelines halving the capacity of bars and clubs.

Schools, museums, and sports arenas have already been shut as Americans adjust. Broadway's lights dimmed last week while the major St Patrick's Day parades in New York and Boston due on Tuesday have been scrapped.

"I think the lockdown is a good idea to get ahead of the virus. I'll guess we'll have to make some sacrifices," 52-year-old customer Laura Gerlach told AFP at a New York deli.


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that from midday on Wednesday only Canadian citizens and permanent residents would be allowed in. US citizens are exempted.

In Washington, leaders of the Group of Seven industrial powerhouses pledged to safeguard the economy a day after the Fed cut the key interest rate to almost zero to help shore up confidence.

Meanwhile, major US airlines said they would cut capacity by at least 50 per cent as they pleaded for a bailout of some US$50 billion (S$71 billion).

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