US President Donald Trump on Sunday told the public to stop panic-buying of food and other supplies amid the coronavirus crisis, as his response to the outbreak came under fire.
“You don’t have to buy so much. Just relax,” he said at a White House news conference.
Trump said he spoke to retail executives, whose message to the US public was to “buy a little bit less please,” that stores would stay open and the supply chain remain healthy.
“There’s no need for anybody in the country to hoard essentials,” Trump added.
His message came as people across the US have cleared supermarket shelves of canned foods and toilet paper.
Online retail giant Amazon said it was “currently out of stock on some popular brands and items, especially in household staples categories.”
Earlier in the day, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blasted the US Government’s response to the virus outbreak.
“If the federal government doesn’t realise this is the equivalent of a war already, there’s no way that the states and localities can make all the adjustments we need to,” de Blasio told broadcaster CNN.
Trump’s administration needed to take control of the supply chain of medical supplies and ramp up the country’s testing capacity, he added.
Later on Sunday, de Blasio announced the closure of the country’s largest public school system from Monday until at least April 20.
It will affect nearly 1,900 schools in New York, as the city joins a growing number of communities and states to shutter schools in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.
He also announced that the city would close restaurants, bars, and cafes – apart from for delivery and take-out orders – as part of measures to limit the spread of the virus, authorities said.
Starting at 9am (1400GMT) on Tuesday, nightclubs, cinemas and concert venues “must all close” de Blasio tweeted.
He added: “This is not a decision I make lightly.
“But our city is facing an unprecedented threat, and we must respond with a wartime mentality.”
Washington state and the City of Los Angeles announced similar measures shortly after.
“Given the explosion of COVID-19 in our state and globally, I will sign a statewide emergency proclamation tomorrow to temporarily shut down restaurants, bars and entertainment and recreational facilities,” Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement.
Inslee also said “all gatherings with over 50 participants are prohibited” and that the measures would be effective immediately in King County, the heart of the state’s outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in a statement on Sunday that gatherings of 50 people or more should be cancelled or postponed for the next eight weeks across the US.
Earlier on Sunday, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York state, which with more than 600 confirmed cases is among the worst hit in the country, urged Trump to mobilise the military to help fight the outbreak.
“Localise testing, federalise shutdowns and task the Army Corps of Engineers to expand hospital capacity,” Cuomo wrote in a New York Times opinion piece addressed to the president.
Trump on Friday declared a national emergency after he faced growing criticism for downplaying the virus in the earlier days of the outbreak.
The president also imposed a ban on most travel from Europe and announced enhanced screenings for passengers returning from there in a bid to slow the spread of the virus, which has now been confirmed in more than 3,200 people in the US, according to John Hopkins University data.
Airports across the US were thrown into chaos on the weekend as they scrambled to implement the new rules and US citizens rushed to get home.
Passengers from Europe, Iran, and China are being funnelled through 13 US airports, where their symptoms and medical histories are checked and they are instructed to self-quarantine.
Many US citizens arriving at some of the country’s busiest travel hubs in New York, Dallas and Chicago took to social media to express their anger at being forced to wait for hours in tightly-packed queues to be screened.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker tweeted that the crowds and lines at Chicago’s O’Hare airport were “unacceptable” and told the government to “get its [email protected]#t together.”
Trump defended the “very precise” medical screenings being carried out.
The president tweeted: “Pardon the interruptions and delays, we are moving as quickly as possible, but it is very important that we be vigilant and careful.
“We must get it right. Safety first!”
Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said his agency “along with medical personnel are working diligently to address the longer than usual delays.”
Speaking on Sunday news shows, Anthony Fauci, one of the top US officials handling the outbreak, said “we’d like to not see crowds like that,” and pointed to social distancing as a means of containing the spread of the virus.
“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Fauci warned, saying it could take “several weeks to a few months” for life to return back to normal in the US.
The outbreak has spread into nearly every area of social life, with a flurry of cancellations and closures announced in recent days, spanning Broadway theatres in New York, Disneyland in California, and major sporting events throughout the country.
Two US states have postponed their presidential primary elections.