Texas halts reopening in face of new Covid-19 outbreak

Texas has thrown its economic reopening into reverse in the face of a spike in coronavirus cases, halting plans to ease lockdown restrictions and banning elective surgeries in its four biggest cities to free up hospital beds.

The order from Greg Abbott, the Texas governor, is the clearest sign yet that states in the US south and west may be forced to reimpose strict social distancing measures just a month after giving companies the green light to resume business.

“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses,” Mr Abbott said. “This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business.”

The decision came a day after Texas, California, Florida and four other states reported record one-day increases in coronavirus cases, triggering the biggest rise in new diagnoses nationwide since the outbreak began.

Early data released on Thursday showed several southern and western states continuing to record new infections near record levels.

Florida said 5,028 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, down from a record 5,472 the previous day. The state conducted almost 60,000 tests, a single-day record. Arizona also reported new cases near daily records, at 3,056.

North Carolina took similar steps as Texas to pause its reopening on Wednesday, and several big US companies stepped in to reverse reopening plans even without government guidance. Apple, for instance, shuttered its seven retail stores in Houston, while the Walt Disney Co put off the planned reopening of its California theme parks.

The prospect of reimposing lockdown restrictions in some of the US’s largest states has damped investor optimism that the world’s biggest developed economy will bounce back quickly.

The reversals come at a time that the country is already dealing with its worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression; on Thursday, the US labour department reported that another 1.48m Americans had applied for jobless benefits last week, the 12th straight week of more than 1m claims.

Texas reported a single-day record of 5,551 new coronavirus cases over the preceding 24 hours on Wednesday. Almost 4,400 Texans were hospital patients with the virus, the most at any point since the pandemic began.

A further 3,056 people in Arizona tested positive since Wednesday, according to the state’s health department, up almost 1,300 from a day earlier, but close to the record 3,593 on Tuesday when Donald Trump held a rally-style event in Phoenix. More than 19,300 tests were conducted over the past day, a record.

Mr Abbott’s executive order banning all elective surgeries and procedures in Texas is similar to measures taken in New York and New Jersey — the hardest-hit states at the outset of the US outbreak — back in March.

They cover both Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth regions — by far the largest metropolitan areas in the state — as well as the counties surrounding Austin, the state capital, and San Antonio.

“These four counties have experienced significant increases in people being hospitalised due to Covid-19 and today’s action is a precautionary step to help ensure that the hospitals in these counties continue to have ample supply of available beds to treat Covid-19 patients,” Mr Abbott said.

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