Trump seeks to regain footing by shifting coronavirus focus to economy

Donald Trump impeachment proceedings continue
Donald Trump

The White House has released new guidelines on coronavirus testing and reopening businesses as Donald Trump sought to regain his footing after weeks of criticism created in part by his sideshow press conferences.

The president appeared reluctant to cede the spotlight, with on-off plans for a news conference to capture the flurry of action.

As part of the guidelines, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention released new priorities for virus testing, including people who show no symptoms but are in high-risk settings.

The White House unveiled what it described as a comprehensive overview of its efforts to make enough tests for Covid-19 available so states can sample at least 2.6% of their populations each month. Areas that have been harder hit by the virus would be able to test at double that rate or higher, the White House said.

Mr Trump and administration medical experts outlined the plan on a call with governors on Monday afternoon, and the president announced that businesses would expand access to tests across the country.

“Testing is not going to be a problem at all,” Mr Trump said later in the Rose Garden. Many of the administration’s past pledges and goals on testing have not been met.

Monday’s developments were meant to fill critical gaps in White House plans to begin “reopening” the nation, ramping up testing for the virus while shifting the president’s focus towards recovery from the economic collapse caused by the outbreak.

At one point the White House announced there would be no Trump briefing, but he appeared to have other ideas. His insistence on being the star of the daily briefing was increasingly being seen as a liability.

At the same time, private Republican Party polling shows his path to a second term as president depends on the public’s perception of how quickly the economy rebounds from the state-by-state shutdowns meant to slow the spread of the virus.

Coronavirus deaths/cases worldwide countries

Days after he set off a firestorm by publicly musing that scientists should explore the injection of toxic disinfectants as a potential virus cure, Mr Trump said he found little use for his daily taskforce briefings, where he has time and again clashed with medical experts and reporters.

Aides had been trying to move the president on to more familiar and safer, ground: Talking up the economy in more tightly controlled settings.

But hours after the White House scrubbed the nightly briefing from the official White House schedule, it reversed course.

Spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said briefings would be held later in the week but “they might have a new look to them, a new focus to them”.

“We’re entering a phase of looking to reopen the country and with that, the president will be focusing a lot on the economy,” she said.

On the conference call with governors, Mr Trump suggested that many states should consider reopening schools before the end of the academic year, easing the way for parents to go back to work.

“Some of you might start thinking about school openings because a lot of people are wanting to have the school openings,” he told the governors.

Among Monday’s announcements was a new “testing blueprint” for states. It includes a focus on surveillance testing as well as “rapid response” programmes to isolate those who test positive and identify those with whom they came in contact.

The administration aims to have the market “flooded” with tests for the autumn, when Covid-19 is expected to recur alongside seasonal flu.

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