Los Angeles mayor hedges on plan to extend coronavirus lockdown for 3 months

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti delivers remarks at The United States Conference of Mayors winter meeting in Washington, US, January 24, 2019. REUTERS
The mayor of Los Angeles on Tuesday back-pedaled from his health director's assertion that stay-at-home orders in America's second-largest city would be extended at least through July, after those comments touched off a furore among beleaguered residents.

The remarks by Los Angeles County Health Director Barbara Ferrer, reported by the Los Angeles Times, came as other major US cities and states begin to ease the sweeping restrictions imposed weeks ago in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I want to reassure people because I think there was a lot of panic suddenly when the headlines said we're all going to stay exactly as we are for three more months when that's not the case," Mayor Eric Garcetti told CNN in an interview.

"I think, quite simply, she's saying that we're not going to fully reopen Los Angeles and probably anywhere in America, without any protections or any health orders in the next three months. I think we know it's going to be even longer than three months," Garcetti said.

Ferrer could not be reached by Reuters for comment on Tuesday. State health statistics show that the number of daily COVID-19 fatalities and new cases have risen in Los Angeles County since March.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday that restaurants in parts of the state could begin allowing diners again under modified condition and that outdoor shopping malls could open for curbside pickup.

Offices in parts of the state can also open with some restrictions, Newsom, a Democrat, said in his daily press briefing. But his latest plan for restarting the world's fifth-largest economy still does not allow nail salons, tattoo parlours or gyms.

"It's a mistake to over-promise what reopening means," said Newsom, who has been more cautious than some governors in reopening his state

FAUCI WARNS ON REOPENING

Earlier on Tuesday, top White House infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci told Congress that lifting the sweeping coronavirus lockdowns could touch off new outbreaks of the illness, which has killed 80,000 Americans and badly damaged the US economy.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a US Senate panel that the virus epidemic is not yet under control in areas of the nation.

"I think we're going in the right direction, but the right direction does not mean we have by any means total control of this outbreak," Fauci said during the 3-1/2-hour hearing.

He urged states to follow health experts' recommendations to wait for signs, including a declining number of new infections, before reopening.

"There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control and, in fact paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery," Fauci said of premature steps. The COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus has infected more than 1.3 million Americans and killed more than 80,600.

Medical researchers have been scrambling to find not only an effective vaccine but also drugs for treatment until a vaccine comes to market.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that his state needs $61 billion in federal stimulus to help reopen its economy. He called on Congress and US President Donald Trump to support legislation that would address funding gaps, a problem he stressed was dogging Republican and Democratic governors.

"This economy has been damaged through no fault of anyone," said Cuomo, a Democrat. "But to get this economy back up again and running, we are going to need an intelligent stimulus bill from Washington."

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on Tuesday that he intended to announce some tentative moves toward reopening even though his state, by some measures, is currently the most serious coronavirus danger zone in the United States.

Restrictions currently in place allow only essential services to operate. Murphy said any changes would be incremental and determined by progress in curbing the spread of the virus.

Trump, who has made the strength of the economy central to his pitch for his November re-election, has encouraged states to reopen businesses that had been deemed non-essential amid the pandemic.

Criticising aspects of the administration's response to the pandemic, Senator Patty Murray, the senior committee Democrat, said Americans "need leadership, they need a plan, they need honesty and they need it now, before we reopen."

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who has clashed with Trump in the past, did so again on Tuesday, when he said during the hearing, "I find our testing record nothing to celebrate whatsoever."