US president Donald Trump has issued guidance to state governors on gradually lifting their respective lockdowns.
The guidelines in Trump’s plan, titled “Opening up America Again” detail three phases which will help restart state economies.
Trump reassured governors that they would oversee the execution of the plans in their own states, with assistance from the federal government in Washington DC.
Speaking from the White House during Thursday’s US coronavirus briefing, he informed governors: “You’re going to call your own shots. You’re going to be running it, we’re going to be helping you”.
The president had previously clashed with state governors over his authority to enforce certain measures to lift restrictions, before backing down.
Opening up America again will be “the next front” in the war on Covid-19, according to Trump.
He said: "America wants to be open and Americans want to be open. A national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution."
Trump added that prolonging the lockdown would have negative consequences on public health, suggesting that it could trigger a “sharp rise” in “physical and mental” problems, as well as other major issues such as drug and alcohol abuse.
American citizens will still be asked to maintain social distancing during the execution of the plans as they return to work and are advised to remain at home if they feel ill.
The full document outlining the three-phase plan suggests that each phase should last for 14 days minimum and includes general recommendations such as maintaining good personal hygiene.
It adds that employers should maintain social distancing in the workplace, as well as ensuring regular testing and contact tracing for employees.
Phase one is consistent with many of the lockdown measures currently in place, including avoiding all but essential travel and prohibiting gatherings of people. It does suggest, however, that restaurants, sports venues and places of worship can operate “under strict physical distancing protocols”.
Phase two will then allow non-essential travel to resume if there is no evidence of the virus returning with pubs and bars able to re-use standing capacity at a minimum level. Phase three will see “public interactions” permitted in states where Covid-19 is on a noticeable downward trajectory in terms of symptoms and cases. Visitors can then return to hospitals and care homes, but physical distancing is still recommended, particularly for vulnerable people.
The document suggests that some states could return to normality after an evaluation period of one month at the absolute earliest but conceded that it may take longer if cases do start to increase.
Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has criticised the plans, calling them “vague and inconsistent”.
The most recent figures from the US, compiled by Johns Hopkins University indicate that there are 671,260 confirmed cases nationwide with 33,284 deaths as of 04:25 EST on April 17.
However, vice-president Mike Pence, who is leading the US response to the pandemic, said on Wednesday that 24 per cent of US counties reported no new Covid-19 cases and that half of the states had fewer than 2,500 cases each, prompting the Trump administration's reopening plans.