US President Donald Trump has said that he is considering ordering a quarantine of the New York City area, which is the epicentre of the COVID-19 epidemic.
He said on Sunday that at the request of other states that don’t have much coronavirus infection, he was looking at a quarantine of parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut states.
“And it will be for a short period of time, if we do it at all,” he said.
He said, “We’re talking about (people) leaving New York. Leaving New York. They go to Florida, and a lot of people don’t want that. So we’ll see what happens. We’re going to make a decision.”
He ruled out the use of military to enforce the quarantine, if it is imposed.
“The people of New York, they understand it better than anybody, and they’ll be great,” Trump said.
Trump spoke to reporters before leaving for Norfolk Navy base to see off a hospital ship with 1,000 beds that he was sending to New York to augment its medical facilities.
He also ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to build field hospitals in the state with a capacity of 4,000 beds, in addition to the four he had sanctioned earlier with 4,000 beds.
New York Governor Andre Cuomo, who has been issuing dire warnings about the spread of coronavirus in the state, said he did not think a quarantine could be legally enforced.
“I don’t even like the sound of it,” he said.
The Trump administration has already asked people travelling from New York area to self-isolate themselves for 14 days.
Of the 115,547 cases in the US, reported on Saturday afternoon, 53,216 are in New York State with 29,158 in the city and 15,199 in surrounding areas within the state.
Neighbouring New Jersey had 11,124 cases and Connecticut 1,291.
States like Texas and Florida have imposed 14-day quarantine on visitors flying in from the New York area.
Rhode Island has gone further with state police troopers stopping cars with New York licence plates and having plans for National Guard and police to run house-to-house searches to ensure people who have come from New York were observing self-quarantine.
If Trump imposes a quarantine on New York area, it could be a prelude to his plans to open the less hard-hit parts of the country for business.
He has said that some parts of the US could ease the 15-day guideline he had suggested, which ends on Monday, and restart the economy bruised by the social distancing precautions that closed most businesses across the country.
His proposal has met with criticism from some doctors, scientists and politicians, and parts of the media.
A selective easing of restrictions on less affected areas, while tightening them on the most affected areas to prevent transmission from them may be part of his strategy.
He and doctors on his Coronavirus Task Force have emphasised the uneven spread of COVID-19.
Of the 50 US states, six sparsely populated states have reported less than 100 cases and six others less than 150.
Even if Trump loosens his guidelines, it will be up to the state governors and local authorities to follow them or impose their own restrictions.