The eerie deafening silence of streets in the most recognisable city in the world is a daily sharp reminder of lockdown. The ‘city that never sleeps’, was put to bed last month, at least at ground level where sidewalks and streets lie empty, and it’s state of respite has continued ever since with no end in sight. That is, until this week.
On Monday, April 13, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo boldly announced his intention to bring New York out of slumber, a task he anticipates tackling with the governors of neighbouring eastern states. The announcement came on the very same day New York’s death toll surpassed 10,000.
New York is no stranger to cataclysmic events – 911 springs to mind – but the city itself has never ever stood still for nothing or nobody, immobile and utterly void of its trademark throngs of people, cars and yellow cabs and the cacophonous crescendo produced by the hustle and bustle of life in a cosmopolitan city.
Since the first coronavirus case was recorded in the state of New York on March 1st, massive changes to daily life across the state were steadily introduced by governor Cuomo, in an attempt to stop the spread of the deadly virus, including businesses and schools shutting down and all non-essential workers ordered to stay at home and to self-isolate.
New York isn’t alone. The virus-mandated lockdown that is shuttering New York state is being mirrored across many states and countries around the world to varying degrees. A third of the global population is now in some form of lockdown with India, China, France, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and the UK, among others, resorting to some of the world’s largest and most comprehensive mass quarantines.
Nearly 2 million people have been infected with COVID-19 and almost 125,000 people (according to figures on Tuesday, April 14) have died as a result. In the United States, close to 600,000 have tested positive for the virus and nearly 25,000 people have died as a result of COVID-19.
New York accounts for almost half of the figures in the U.S with the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the highest number of fatalities. On Monday, April 13, the state’s death toll passed the five-figure threshold.
Despite all of these staggering figures from across Europe and New York, there are indications coming from the U.S. and other countries that an easing of the restrictions is imminent. Governors of American States on the east and west coasts are commencing discussions on when and how to reopen their economies this week, signaling a marked shift in the debate on what’s more important: fighting the virus or restarting the economy.
Hours after the New York governor’s plan to collaborate with neighboring governors and devise an exit strategy for the region was announced, it sparked a standoff with President Donald Trump, who took issue with the governors’ bipartisan actions during the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing and claimed ‘total authority’ over lockdown rules in the country rested with the federal government.
On Tuesday, Trump turned to social media, where he stoked the embers of the standoff further in a tweet, in which he said, “Tell the Democrat Governors that “Mutiny On The Bounty” was one of my all-time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!”
Cuomo, referring to Trump’s tweet in Tuesday’s morning press briefing, said, “the president was clearly spoiling for a fight on this issue.” But he did add, “the president will have no fight from me,” as he stressed walking away from the fight was better than engaging.
Nevertheless, Cuomo did rebuke Trump’s claim on absolute authority to reopen states to business, “It’s not the law. It’s not the Constitution. We don’t have a king, we have a president,” Cuomo said.
Later on, in an appearance on CNN’s New Day, Cuomo insisted he would disobey any orders to reopen if they endangered the public health of the people of his state. “I wouldn’t do it. And we would have a constitutional challenge between the state and the federal government and that would go into the courts, and that would be the worst possible thing he could do at this moment would be to act dictatorial and to act in a partisan divisive way,” said Cuomo.
While everyone is focused on the coronavirus outbreak and the ramifications of lockdowns – from the economic strain to the mental toll on public health and more – it is easy to forget that it’s an election year in the United States, with the November elections just around the corner.
All governments around the world are facing the same critical debate: how and when to reopen economies and revive some semblance of normalcy, all the while mindful of the real threat that a second wave of COVID-19 cases, which would overwhelm health-care systems again. poses. A constitutional crisis on top of a global pandemic is surely the last thing the United States needs to add to what is already an unprecedented challenge that no politician or government has ever faced before.