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Trump's back-to-work push pits billionaires against the doctors

Kevin Miller, Mark Niquette and Drew Armstrong, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

Business leaders in the U.S. are getting impatient with the national economic shutdown caused by coronavirus and are increasingly echoing President Donald Trump, who says he doesn't want "the cure to be worse than the problem."

Trump, who spoke to several billionaire hedge fund and private equity managers Tuesday about reopening the U.S. economy, said on Fox News that he hopes to get the economy opening up by Easter, April 12.

Also urging a speedy recovery, David Neeleman, who founded JetBlue and WestJet, said Monday that the suffering from a huge economic downturn will outweigh the damage from the disease. "There's too much confusion -- nobody has jobs, people are losing their houses, kids are home from school," he said by phone. "What we're doing today, we have the worst of all worlds."

Apple Inc. retail stores are planning to reopen nationally in the first half of April on a staggered basis.

Meanwhile, state officials are still moving toward shutdown. On Monday, governors and health officials in Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon and West Virginia became the latest to order residents to stay at home, joining other states including New York, California and Illinois. Wisconsin's governor issued a similar order Tuesday.

Bill Gurley, a general partner at Benchmark Capital in Woodside, Calif., focused on the downside risks to such moves. He took to Twitter to say that there are potential costs that have to be weighed against a shutdown of the economy -- including personal bankruptcies and suicides.

 

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard predicted the U.S. unemployment rate may hit 30% in the second quarter, along with a 50% drop in gross domestic product. Morgan Stanley said Sunday it expects the U.S. economy to plummet 30% on an annualized basis in the second quarter.

Former Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein posted on Twitter on Sunday that he supports "extreme measures" to flatten the virus curve, but said those at lower risk of the disease should return to work "within a very few weeks," pointing out dangers a longer shutdown would bring to the economy. The banker's tweet stirred strong reactions, including from hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, who renewed his call for a 30-day shutdown to fight the pandemic.

Trump last week had helped roll out a plan from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to encourage most people to stay at home, a campaign due to end about March 31. It's what comes next that's in question, with some people advocating looser restrictions on healthy or younger workers while keeping at-risk populations at home.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday that he shares Trump's frustration and desire to get people back to work, but that protecting people and the economy are not mutually exclusive -- and that the economy won't recover if hospitals are overwhelmed and people are at risk.

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