President Donald Trump said he wants to wind down "social distancing" and re-open the U.S. economy by Easter, which is April 12, after much of the country's economic activity slowed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
"I would love to have it open by Easter," Trump said in a Fox News "virtual town hall" on the virus on Tuesday. "I would love to have it opened up and just raring to go by Easter."
Trump has said he'd re-evaluate whether to call for people to return to work after his 15-day strategy to limit social contact elapses next week. On Tuesday, he repeatedly talked about the harm a long-term economic shutdown would have on the nation, warning of thousands of suicides if there's a prolonged downturn.
"This cure is worse than the problem," Trump said. "In my opinion more people are going to die if we allow this to continue."
Trump also claimed that the mortality rate of the coronavirus in the U.S. is lower than 1%. The U.S. death rate is presently unknown.
As Trump has increasingly talked about re-opening businesses and putting Americans back to work, the World Health Organization warned earlier Tuesday that the U.S. could become a new hub of the outbreak.
The U.S. is showing a large acceleration in the number of infections and has the potential to become a new epicenter of the outbreak, said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based agency. Over the 24 hours through 10 a.m. Geneva time Monday, 40% of new cases were in the U.S., more than any other country.
Trump's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said earlier Tuesday that the White House will consider advice from public health officials as the administration moves to encourage Americans to return to work.
"We're not abandoning the health professionals' advice but there is a clamor to try to re-open the economy, perhaps make it less of a shut-in," Kudlow said Tuesday to reporters at the White House. "That's one piece, but it's yet to be determined."
Trump began discussing how to get Americans back to work last week, just days after issuing guidelines encouraging people to stay away from restaurants and large gatherings and educate their children at home. But he has largely trailed governors and municipal leaders, who have essentially shut down entire states and cities in order to combat the spread of the virus.
That has triggered projections by one Federal Reserve official of a 50% drop in U.S. economic growth.
Trump was peppered with questions at a news conference Monday about how soon he would try to end U.S. "social distancing" practices and whether he would follow the advice of government health professionals. "I'll be listening to them and others we have who are doing a good job," he answered.
One of those professionals, Deborah Birx, the State Department physician who advises Vice President Mike Pence on the government's response to the outbreak, said at the news conference that she didn't think Trump's optimism about soon relaxing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines would hurt compliance.
The president also warned Monday that if the economy is forced into a deep enough recession by social distancing measures, there could be deaths from suicides and other causes in excess of those caused by the coronavirus.
"Public health includes economic health - that's a key point. It's not either-or," Kudlow said. "That's why we're taking a fresh look at it."