Trump's greatest gamble: Reopening America

Donald Trump has described it as the biggest decision of his presidency. And he is surely right.

If he has made the right judgement on when to reopen America’s economy, he saves millions of jobs and salvages entire industries.

If he has made the wrong decision, the virus will return with a vengeance and cost tens of thousands of American their very lives.

The decision may also determine whether Donald Trump wins re-election later this year. It will certainly define his legacy.

No pressure then.

Last night, from the podium in the White House briefing room, Donald Trump released his plan. It is startlingly ambitious. He even sees a time - “relatively quickly” - when American sports venues and restaurants are once again packed. “We will come back stronger and better than ever before,” he declared.

So at a time when many American cities may not even have seen the apex of the pandemic, President Trump has suggested that 29 states (out of 50) may be able to gradually reopen for business within days.

Trump's chances of reelection could hinge on whether his decision to reopen America works. Credit: AP

That’s right. Within days.

To be fair to the President, he is leaving the final decision to each state’s Governor. But that may be politically expedient too; it allows the White House to deflect any blame if a state gets it wrong and opens up prematurely.

The White House is recommending a phased approach, to be adopted once a state has a downward trajectory of Covid-19 cases:

  • Phase 1: If a state is judged to have contained the virus, it can open up businesses, although schools would remain closed. Sports venues, cinemas, theatres, gyms, and places of worship would need to enforce social distancing. (Professional sports would resume, for example, but with a limited number of spectators);

  • Phase 2: School would start again but social gatherings would be limited to 50 people. Places of work and bars could fully open;

  • Phase 3: Even vulnerable individuals - including the elderly - can resume social interactions. Workplaces can return to normal staffing, and large venues can resume business as usual (with some enhanced cleaning and distancing protocols).

As the British cabinet cautiously develops its own economic exit strategy, it will be watching closely to see how the American model works.

If the US is successful in the coming weeks, and some European countries like Italy and Denmark also ease restrictions without witnessing a resurgence in the coronavirus, then the pressure on Downing Street to follow suit will mount.

Donald Trump has always made clear he is hugely impatient to get this country back to work. With 22 million Americans suddenly losing their jobs in the last four weeks alone, its easy to understand why.

Trump has come under fire for his response to coronavirus. Credit: Ap

But it is far from clear Covid-19 is under control. The testing and tracing system here is still deeply flawed and inadequate. The apex of the pandemic may be weeks away for many American cities.

So the Trump plan is one heck of a gamble. His presidency is on the line. But - far more importantly - so are hundreds of thousands of American lives.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know