The chairman of the Federal Reserve on Thursday contradicted President Donald Trump’s push to reopen the economy as soon as possible, advising that curbing the spread of the coronavirus is “the first order of business” and recommending the advice of public health experts.
“The sooner we get the spread of the virus under control, people will regain confidence. When they become confident that is the case, they will very willingly open their businesses up, go back to work, the consumer will be spending,” Jerome Powell said on NBC’s “Today” show. “I think the first order of business will be to get the spread of the virus under control and then resume economic activity.”
At several points, Powell cited comments made Wednesday by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, that “the virus makes the timetable.”
“We would tend to listen to the experts. Dr. Fauci said something like the virus is going to set the timetable, and that sounds right to me,” Powell said.
Powell also said it’s likely the economy will enter a recession because of the pandemic, but again stressed that “if we get the virus spread under control fairly quickly, then economic activity can resume.”
“We may well be in a recession. Again, I would point to the difference between this and a normal recession. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with our economy. Quite the contrary. The economy performed very well right through February,” he said. “This isn’t something that’s wrong with the economy. This is a situation where people are being asked to step back from economic activity, close their businesses, stay home from work. So in principle, if we get the virus spread under control fairly quickly, then economic activity can resume, and we want to make that rebound as vigorous as possible.”
In recent days, Trump has been pushing the idea that Americans could return to work as soon as two or three weeks from now, a claim public health experts have deemed irresponsible and dangerous.
“I’d love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Trump said Tuesday, suggesting people should be able to gather to celebrate the holiday, which falls on April 12 this year.
“We’ll give it some more time if we need a little more time, but we need to open this country up,” he said. “We have to go back to work, much sooner than people thought.”
Officials across much of the country have urged people to stay at home as much as possible, asked them to cancel gatherings and events, and ordered the shutdown of nonessential businesses to slow the spread of the virus and to try not to overwhelm the health care system, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Experts have warned against lifting these restrictions too soon.
Trump has regularly downplayed the gravity of the pandemic, which continues to worsen in the U.S. and throughout much of the world.
The World Health Organization said this week that the U.S. could soon become the epicenter of the pandemic.
In China, where COVID-19 originated late last year, the country is just now beginning to gradually reopen, after two months of lockdown.
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