US launches three-phase reopening plan as cases pass 670,000

US launches three-phase reopening plan as cases pass 670,000

US President Donald Trump has put the wheels in motion to ease coronavirus-related restrictions if certain benchmarks are hit within fortnightly periods.

In an announcement that pushed Wall Street higher overnight, the White House released "gating criteria" that must be met before states and regions can enter a new phase within a three-phase process. 

The final phase would ultimately imply unrestricted staffing of worksites and the resumption of public interactions for vulnerable individuals with physical distancing.

At that point however, low-risk populations would still be encouraged to consider minimising the time spent in crowded environments.

The announcement came after Prime Minister Scott Morrison's triggered approach to easing restrictions, which hinge on improved surveillance, tracing and response mechanisms.

The difference in policy could be best described as Australia trying to crush the virus as our case numbers are so much lower, while the US tries to live with it and effect a slow decline in the virus' spread.

The three gating criteria for "Opening Up America Again" are as follows:

  • A downward trajectory over 14 days for flu-like illnesses or covid-like syndromic cases;
  • A downward trajectory over 14 days for documented Covid-19 cases or positive tests as a percentage of total tests (flat or increasing volume of tests); and
  • Hospitals are treating all patients without crisis care with robust testing programs in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing. 

If Australia were to adopt the US approach, most of our states and territories would almost be ready to enter Phase One, depending on their health systems. Under this scenario, groups of 10 or less would be able to congregate and people would return to work in phases, while large venues and gyms could reopen under strict guidelines.

Under Phase Two, non-essential travel can resume, and schools and bars can reopen, before entering the third phase where most parts of society can act normally but with continued physical distancing and sanitation protocols.

Donald Trump said American society was engaged and mobilised in "the war against an invisible enemy".

"While we must remain vigilant, it is clear that our aggressive strategy is working and very strongly working I might add," he said.

"New cases are declining throughout the New York metropolitan area; cases in the Detroit and Denver metro areas are flat; Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia and St. Louis are showing great signs of progress; and new cases in Houston and New Orleans are declining."

The US President claimed the data nationwide suggested the peak of new cases had been passed.

Hopefully this will turn out to be true as a peak to date of 35,100 cases was reached on 10 April, before a a drop-off in daily reported cases to 25,300 on 13 April. But since Easter the daily cases have been climbing again and reached 31,500 yesterday.

The number of total reported coronavirus-related deaths in the US has risen from 16,684 to 33,268 over the past week, and the country has the world's highest reported number of cases and deaths from the disease. 

"A national shutdown is not a sustainable long term solution to preserve the health of our citizens; we must also preserve the health and functioning of our economy over the long haul. You can't do one without the other," he said. 

Updated at 1:18pm AEST on 17 April 2020.

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