Trump cheers Wisconsin ruling as tensions flare over coronavirus lockdowns

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Thursday applauded the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a coronavirus lockdown order in his latest move to encourage states to reopen, even after the top U.S. infectious disease expert urged caution.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump holds a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak response press briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Residents of Wisconsin flocked to bars on Wednesday evening after the court sided with Republican lawmakers who had argued the state’s top public health official exceeded her authority by imposing restrictions on businesses and daily life.

“Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open,” Trump, a Republican, wrote in an early morning tweet, referring to Governor Tony Evers, a first-term Democrat. “The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!”

Trump’s comments reflect growing tension in the country over how quickly to reopen states closed in March due to the pandemic, which has infected nearly 1.4 million Americans and taken nearly 84,000 lives, according to a Reuters tally.

The tension has split largely along political lines, with Republicans generally pushing to reopen more quickly to help the crippled economy and states led by Democratic governors proceeding more cautiously, citing concerns over public health.

A demonstration protesting Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order was due to take place on Thursday in the state capital Lansing, with fears some might bring weapons inside the Capitol building. Whitmer, a Democrat, is a frequent target of Trump’s ire.

On Wednesday, Trump described as not acceptable a warning given by Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that a premature lifting of lockdowns could spark new virus outbreaks. Fauci had issued the warning in Tuesday testimony to Congress.

Pictures on social media showed residents of Wisconsin crowding in bars after the ruling, which invalidated the state’s “Safer at Home” order that had been extended through May 26 by health secretary-designee Andrea Palm.

“We further conclude that Palm’s order confining all people to their homes, forbidding travel and closing businesses exceeded the statutory authority … upon which Palm claims to rely,” the court said.

Nearly all 50 U.S. states have taken some steps to relax restrictions. On Friday, New York state will allow construction and manufacturing operations to restart work in less populated areas outside of New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country, accounting for more than a quarter of all deaths.

The crisis has battered the U.S. job market, with government data released on Thursday showing that initial claims for state unemployment benefits totaled a seasonally adjusted 2.981 million for the week ended May 9. While that marked the sixth straight weekly drop, claims remain astoundingly high.

The economy lost a staggering 20.5 million jobs in April, the steepest plunge in payrolls since the Great Depression of the 1930s, as businesses were locked down to slow the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. [L1N2CV2CY]

Reporting by Steve Gorman and Sharon Bernstein; Additional reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Maria Caspani in New York, and Susan Heavey and Lucia Mutikani in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller

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