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Biden coronavirus advisers nix national U.S. lockdown

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of Democratic U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus advisory board said on Friday there was no plan to shut the country down and that the new administration’s approach will be targeted at specific areas.

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Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general tapped to lead the board, said doctors have learned a lot about how the virus spreads and what steps to reduce risk are effective.

“We’re not in a place where we’re saying shut the whole country down. We got to be more targeted,” Murthy said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Another member of Biden’s COVID team, Dr. Michael Osterholm, suggested in a Yahoo Finance interview on Wednesday that the country could cover individual companies’ and local governments’ losses for a four- to six-week lockdown to drive numbers down.

Osterholm clarified in an interview with ABC on Thursday that he did not discuss a lockdown with anyone on the advisory board and he did not think there was a national consensus for it. “Nobody’s going to support it,” he said.

Neither Murthy nor Dr. Celine Gounder, another Biden adviser, who appeared on CNN on Friday, embraced the idea of a national lockdown.

“Right now the way we should be thinking about this is more like a series of restrictions that we dial up or down depending on how bad spread is taking place in a specific region,” Murthy said.

Murthy cited New York City as an example where health officials are targeting COVID interventions “down to the ZIP code.”

In his failed campaign for re-election, Republican President Donald Trump warned without evidence that Biden would seek to lock down the country. The Trump administration pushed hard for the country’s economy to reopen. Coronavirus cases spiked over the summer and are increasing again now around the country.

The current rise has been accompanied by increasing hospitalizations and surges in the rate of COVID-19 tests coming back positive. The onset of winter, with people more likely to congregate indoors, will only worsen those trends, experts say. [nL1N2HY2RQ]

Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, on Thursday issued a monthlong stay-at-home advisory, and Detroit’s public schools called a halt to in-person instruction as more than a dozen U.S. states reported a doubling of new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.

Murthy said the Biden team’s priority will be to stop the spread of the virus and focus on hard-hit populations like nursing homes and prisons. Increasing testing capacity will be key to those efforts.

“We still don’t have adequate testing so that anyone who wants a test can get one and get results quickly,” he said.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by Jonathan Oatis