Donald Trump has told Georgia’s Republican governor that he “strongly” disagrees with his decision to reopen the US state’s economy, saying it was “totally egregious” to open spas, beauty salons and tattoo parlours.
Brian Kemp this week vowed to reopen much of Georgia’s economy on Friday and let residents visit cinemas and restaurants from Monday. The move came as several southern US states started taking steps to reboot their economies to tackle soaring unemployment sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I disagree with him on what he’s doing,” Mr Trump said at the White House coronavirus news conference.
“Spas and beauty salons and tattoo parlours and barber shops in phase one . . . is just too soon,” the president said. “I told the governor very simply that I disagree with his decision, but he has to do what he thinks is right.”
The warning contrasted with Mr Trump’s call just days ago for people to “liberate” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, states run by Democratic governors that have stay-at-home orders. The president has been castigated for appearing to encourage protesters, many of whom are not engaging in social distancing.
Asked at a press conference on Tuesday about Mr Kemp’s move, Mr Trump said: “He’s a very capable man. He knows what he’s doing.”
Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and sole member of the coronavirus task force who is willing to publicly contradict Mr Trump, echoed the same warning as the president. Dr Fauci suggested that Mr Trump had been urged to reverse course by his own team.
“If I were advising the governor, I would tell him that he should be careful,” Mr Fauci said, standing beside Mr Trump. “I would advise him not to just turn the switch on and go, because there is a danger of a rebound.”
Mr Kemp has come under heavy criticism because Georgia has not yet met the guidelines outlined by the White House last week. It recommended keeping lockdowns in place until coronavirus cases had fallen for 14 consecutive days, at which point states could begin loosening restrictions.
The governor’s move was also slammed by the mayors of several Georgia cities, including Keisha Lance Bottoms, the Democratic mayor of Atlanta, as well as Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic minority leader of the state legislature.
Mr Kemp, a self-described “politically incorrect conservative” who beat Ms Abrams in the 2018 gubernatorial race, has been a fierce supporter of Mr Trump. But his move has also been criticised by top Republican lawmakers, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a neighbouring southern state who is close to the president.
“I agree with President Trump’s concern about Georgia going ‘too far too fast’ with business reopenings,” Mr Graham said on Wednesday. “Future reopenings can occur rather quickly but we must get phase one right.”
Georgia was one of the last US states to impose a stay-at-home order, on April 3, and is set to become one of the first to ease restrictions.
Mr Kemp conceded at the time that he had just learnt that the virus could be transmitted by people without symptoms, which raised eyebrows given how quickly it had spread in the US.