Oregon, New Mexico order lockdowns as other states resist

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND (AP) — The governors of Oregon and New Mexico ordered near-lockdowns on Friday in the most aggressive response yet to the latest wave of coronavirus infections shattering records across the United States (US), even as many of their counterparts in other states show little appetite for reimposing the hard-line restrictions of last spring.

“We are in a life-or-death situation, and if we do not act right now, we cannot preserve the lives, we cannot keep saving lives, and we will absolutely crush our current healthcare system and infrastructure,” Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico said in imposing a two-week stay-at-home order.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown ordered a two-week “freeze” starting on Wednesday, under which businesses will be required to close their offices to the public and mandate work-from-home “to the greatest extent possible”.

While most Oregon stores will remain open, gyms, museums, pools, movie theatres and zoos will be forced to close, and restaurants will be limited to takeout. Social gatherings will be restricted to six people.

The Democratic governor warned that violators could face fines or arrest.

“For the last eight months, I have been asking Oregonians to follow to the letter and the spirit of the law, and we have not chosen to engage law enforcement,” Brown said. “At this point in time, unfortunately, we have no other option.”

A sign outside a store in the United States. PHOTO: AP

Both states had lockdowns earlier in the year, but the coronavirus is coming back with a vengeance across the country, and the US is facing a long, dark winter.

The scourge is blamed for 10.7 million confirmed infections and almost a quarter-million deaths in the US, with the closely watched University of Washington model projecting nearly 439,000 dead by March 1.

Deaths climbed to about 1,000 a day on average. New cases per day are soaring, reaching another all-time high on Thursday of over 153,000. Hospitals are getting swamped.

Still, there is little will among many governors and other elected officials for going back to the kind of lockdowns and large-scale business closings seen last spring. Some governors also continue to resist issuing statewide mask rules.

Among the reasons given: public fatigue, fear of doing more damage to already-crippled businesses, lack of support from Washington, and the way efforts to tame the virus have become fiercely politicised.

“I think that governors and mayors are, again, in a really tough spot. The American population is emotionally and economically exhausted,” Dr Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

US President Donald Trump asked all Americans to remain “vigilant” but ruled out a nationwide “lockdown”.