(This March 25 story corrects paragraph 11 to show Sean Kennedy represents the National Restaurant Association)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump wants America to get back to business by Easter, suggesting some efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus outbreak will no longer be needed by then, but Corporate America is taking its lead from health professionals.
The president, who is concerned about the economic repercussions of an extended shutdown of nonessential business, said in a television interview on Tuesday that he wanted to see businesses returning to normal by Easter, or April 12.
“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said on Fox News Channel.
But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation and National Restaurant Association pointed to less optimistic recommendations by public health officials. Many of these have urged that Americans stay in their homes as much as possible for weeks to prevent the virus’ spread.
“It’s a tough one. I think it would be easier to accept that as something that I would feel comfortable doing if I thought it weren’t going to cost lives,” said Melanie Krautstrunk, who owns a brew pub in Tennessee, about re-opening by Easter.
A total of 53,541 Americans have tested positive for the virus, and 730 have died. State governors, primarily in the northeast and west coast, have ordered schools and non-essential businesses closed to prevent the disease’s spread.
As a result, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surged by the most since 2012 to a 2-1/2-year high, as companies in the service sectors laid off workers, the Labor Department said last Thursday.
Even so, the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it was following the advice of medical professionals.
“We urge all businesses and the public to listen to the public health officials when it comes to social distancing. We believe we should return to work as soon as we safely and responsibly can,” said Neil Bradley, U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief policy officer, in an email statement.
The National Retail Federation’s David French described the situation as “highly fluid” and of undetermined length. They are encouraging retailers to follow the CDC’s and other health experts’ guidance.
National Restaurant Association official Sean Kennedy said, “The challenge really is going to be whether restaurants can even open at this point if we don’t have a public that wants to go out.”
Krautstrunk, of Chattanooga, expected 2020 to be the year the 5-year-old brewery she founded with her husband would become profitable.
Hutton & Smith Brewing Co drew orders from Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. But coronavirus struck a “death blow” to the company, Krautstrunk said, forcing her to shutter the taproom, lay off five employees and cut pay for the remaining 17, as orders cratered.
When asked whether she would reopen if Trump issues guidance suggesting they open by Easter, Krautstrunk said the decision would not be easy.
“Personally, I’m more concerned about the economy than my health at this point. But I’m not at risk for dying. I’m definitely concerned about my mother. And I don’t want to just recklessly try and open a business and see something terrible happen to her if this disease gets out of control,” she said.
Reporting by Diane Bartz, Alexandra Alper, David Lawder and Hilary Russ; editing by Diane Craft
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