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March 23, 2020, 8:15 p.m. EDT

Trump team is weighing whether coronavirus-induced shutdown is doing ‘more harm than good’

‘We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem,’ Trump says

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By Jeffry Bartash, MarketWatch


Associated Press
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus Monday during a White House briefing.

How much damage can be inflicted on the U.S. economy to try to mitigate the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic before it kills the economy? The Trump White House is increasingly raising that question.

The answer could have grave implications for the health and livelihood of all Americans, amid the outbreak of COVID-19, the infectious disease that has been contracted by more than 300,000 people and claimed nearly 16,000 lives so far since it was first identified in December.

President Trump on Monday signaled a potential shift in his administration’s strategy with a late Sunday night tweet saying “ we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” He said he would evaluate the administration's containment strategy early next week after a 15-day period elapses.

Trump reiterated those views on Monday evening during the latest administration update and elaborated on his thinking

“We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem,” Trump told reporters at a press briefing. “We have to open our country because that causes problems that, in my opinion, could be far bigger problems.”

“I’m not looking at months,” said Trump, when asked whether it’ll be weeks or months until he starts opening things up again. “This is going away. We’re going to win the battle.”

The president’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, echoed Trump in an interview with CNBC earlier in the day.

“At some point, you have to ask yourself if the shutdown is doing more harm than good,” offered Kudlow, adding that “I can’t answer that question.”

States and cities have shutdown business and personal activity in an effort to mitigate the spread of the illness, but those efforts are throwing the domestic and global economy into a recession.

It isn’t just Trump and his inner circle. Some prominent economists , businesspeople and lawmakers are also raising questions about how long the U.S. can shutter large parts of its economy before the damage becomes permanent.

Prominently among them are former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. He said people with lower risks to the coronavirus — generally healthy people under 50 — should be allowed to return to work in a few weeks.

“Crushing the economy, jobs and morale is also a health issue—and beyond,” he tweeted.

Read: Complete 30-day shutdown? Two Wall Street billionaires air their differences

The White House and Congress hope to alleviate the short-term damage with a nearly $2 trillion economic-rescue package. The Federal Reserve has also jumped in with new lending programs that could make trillions of dollars available to hard-pressed businesses.

Yet the U.S. and global economies are simply too large for governments around the world to cover the full cost of containment, especially if trade and travel are impaired for an extended period.

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