Source: Wikipedia/ Craig Nagy from Vancouver, Canada / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)
By Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday their countries would close their border to “non-essential traffic,” while New York City moved nearer to ordering residents to stay home as the United States struggled to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The glimmering casinos of Las Vegas, America’s gambling capital, were ordered to go dark starting on Wednesday as the disruption caused by the pandemic stretched into nearly every aspect of American life.
“This is only common sense,” said Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak in mandating the closure of all non-essential businesses, including the casinos that drive his state’s economy.
With cases of the respiratory illness caused by the virus reported in all 50 states and the total number of known U.S. infections surging past 6,400, millions of Americans stayed at home instead of commuting to work or going to school. The U.S. death toll has topped 100.
Many people have lost jobs with numerous businesses closing during the crisis even as the Trump administration works with Congress to approve economic stimulus legislation.
Wall Street’s main indexes were down about 6% on Wednesday after a positive day on Tuesday, as growing signs of coronavirus damage to corporate America overshadowed optimism about sweeping official moves to protect the economy.
“We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected. Details to follow!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The two nations share one of the world’s largest bilateral trading relationships. The U.S. and Canadian economies are highly integrated and a strict ban on border crossing would cause major problems for the auto sector as well as the transportation of food and medicines.
Trudeau told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa that he spoke with Trump and they agreed to restrict non-essential travel across the border.
“Travelers will no longer be permitted to cross the border for recreation and tourism,” Trudeau said.
“Our governments recognize it is critical that we preserve supply chains between both countries,” Trudeau added. “These supply chains ensure that food, fuel and life-saving medicines reach people on both sides of the border. Supply chains including trucking will not be affected by this new measure.”
Meanwhile, U.S. restaurants could take a $225 billion sales hit in the next three months as they shut down or curtail operations to help slow the fast-spreading outbreak, an industry trade group said.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday that he was “almost to the point” of recommending the most populous U.S. city adopt a “shelter-in-place” policy that would keep residents confined to their homes.
De Blasio, speaking on NBC’s “Today” show, said he planned to speak with Governor Andrew Cuomo about the matter later in the day. New York City had 923 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Tuesday evening.
“We are going to top 1,000 today undoubtedly. We are going to be at 10,000 not so long from now,” the mayor said.
“We have a little bit more we have to make sense of – how we are going to get people food and medicine,” de Blasio said when asked how close he was to implementing the “shelter-in-place” policy in the city of more than 8 million people. “But I have to say it has to be considered seriously starting today.”
New York, Washington state and California have the most cases of the virus that has now hit all 50 states after West Virginia reported its first case this week.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the coronavirus threat could impact clinical trials of experimental medicines and recommended that companies consider conducting virtual patient visits as the agency looks to contain the spread of the virus.
‘FLATTEN THE CURVE’
U.S. health officials appealed to youth to “do their part” by heeding guidelines on self-isolation to blunt the coronavirus outbreak and warned that the White House may have to extend its action plan if 15 days proves insufficient.
“Fifteen days is likely not going to be enough to get us all the way through, but we really need to lean into it now so we can bend the curve in the 15 days, and at that point we’ll reassess,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told NBC’s “Today” program.
“If we can get America to all pitch in for the next 15 days, we can flatten the curve … not overwhelm our healthcare system and hopefully get through this.”
Health officials voiced worry over reports that younger people across the country were defying official guidelines about staying home and avoiding large gatherings, increasing the risk of spreading the virus.
“It is incumbent on every single American to do their part, even that millennial generation,” Seema Verma, head of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told CNBC.
The renewed warnings followed Tuesday’s announcement that Trump’s administration would seek a $1 trillion stimulus package, possibly to include $1,000 direct payments to individual Americans.
Even with vigilance, the healthcare system ran the risk of running out of ventilators and respirators for patients and protective equipment for healthcare workers, officials have said.
Trump, facing criticism for his handling of the crisis as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3, promised that Americans would soon see money to help offset the economic pain of the seismic closures across the country. Congress has not yet finished work on a multibillion-dollar emergency bill, with any cash payments likely to be part of a subsequent package.
Trump defended his handling of the crisis, writing on Twitter he has “done a very good job from the beginning” and assailing media coverage. Critics have accused him of initially minimizing the threat and providing unreliable information on issues such as the availability of testing.
In addition to the stimulus package, his administration also asked Congress for another $45.8 billion to shore up federal agencies battling the outbreak, seeking extra money to help sanitize airports, get protective equipment to federal officers and shore up cyber defenses.
Additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Saumya Sibi Joseph, Hilary Russ, Maria Ponnezhath and David Ljunggren; Writing by Will Dunham and Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Berkrot.