Trump unveils three-stage process to end coronavirus shutdown

US President Donald Trump, flanked by US Vice President Mike Pence, speaks during the daily briefing on COVID-19.

US President Donald Trump, flanked by US Vice President Mike Pence, speaks during the daily briefing on COVID-19.

AFP/Mandel Ngan

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump laid out new guidelines for US states to emerge from a coronavirus shutdown in a staggered, three-stage approach meant to revive the US economy -- even as the country continues to fight the pandemic.

The recommendations call on states to show a "downward trajectory" of COVID-19 cases or positive tests for the disease over 14 days before proceeding with the plan, which gradually loosens restrictions on businesses that have been shuttered to blunt the spread of the virus.

READ: Trump to ease lockdown, saying virus cases have 'passed peak'

"We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time," Trump told reporters at the White House. The president had said earlier this month he wanted to reopen the economy with a "big bang."

In the first phase of re-opening, the guidelines say groups of more than 10 people should be avoided if appropriate distancing measures are not practical. Non-essential travel should be minimised, telework should be encouraged, and common areas in offices closed.

READ: Peak US coronavirus death rate likely in two weeks: Trump

Schools remain closed in phase 1, but large venues such as movies theaters, restaurants, sports stadiums, and places of worship can open with "strict physical distancing protocols."

Hospitals, which have been hit hard by the health crisis, may resume out-patient elective surgeries and gyms can re-open with new protocols. Bars should remain closed, it said.

In the second phase, applicable to states and regions with "no evidence of a rebound" in cases, the guidelines recommend groups of more than 50 be avoided where social distancing is not practical.

READ: COVID-19: Trump signs $2-trillion recovery plan

Non-essential travel can resume, while schools and youth camps can reconvene and bars with "diminished standing-room occupancy" may re-open.

Hospitals may also resume in-patient elective surgeries. Such procedures are critical to hospitals' income.

Phase three includes unrestricted staffing of workplaces, but Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force who took a lead role in designing the guidelines, said that a "new normal" would remain in place: a need for higher hygiene standards and more space between people to prevent asymptomatic spread of the virus.

READ: Trump vows 'major' steps to aid US economy amid coronavirus rise

Trump has been pushing to get the US economy going again after the coronavirus shutdown left millions of Americans jobless. More than 20 million people have filed for unemployment in the US in the past month and over 90 percent of the country have been under stay-at-home orders.