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Even as nations from Britain to India declare nationwide economic lockdowns, President Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go, by Easter,” less than three weeks away, a goal that top health professionals have called far too quick.

“I think it’s possible, why not?” he said with a shrug.

Participating in a town hall hosted by Fox News on Tuesday, he expressed outrage about having to “close the country” to curb the spread of the coronavirus and indicated that his guidelines on business shutdowns and social distancing would soon be lifted.

“I gave it two weeks,” he said, adding, “We can socially distance ourselves and go to work.”

Both Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence said that a lockdown had never been under consideration for the United States. Mr. Pence told viewers that talk of it was misinformation that has circulated online.

“I can tell you that at no point has the White House coronavirus task force discussed a nationwide lockdown,” he said, answering a question from a viewer on the phone.

Mr. Trump fell back on his comparison of the coronavirus to the flu, saying that despite losing thousands of people to the flu, “We don’t turn the country off.”

He also said that more people die of automobile accidents, but nobody forces car companies to stop manufacturing vehicles.

States including California, Maryland, Illinois and Washington have declared stay-at-home or shutdown orders, but other states have been looking for directives from the Trump administration. And countries in Asia are beginning to see a resurgence of coronavirus after easing up on restrictions.

For governors and mayors who have been trying to educate people about the urgent need to stay home and maintain social distance, Mr. Trump’s recent statements suggesting that such measures may be going too far threatened to make their jobs more difficult.

“Some of the messaging is pretty confusing,” Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican who moved this week to close nonessential businesses in his state, said in an interview Tuesday morning on CNN, before the president announced his new Easter goal, when he was asked about the Mr. Trump’s talk in recent days of relaxing social distancing guidelines. “I think it’s not just it doesn’t match with what we’re doing here in Maryland. Some of the messaging coming out of the administration doesn’t match.”

Mr. Hogan, the chairman of the bipartisan National Governors Association, said that health officials suggest that the virus’s peak could be weeks or months away. “We’re just trying to take the best advice that we can from the scientists and all the experts, and making the decisions that we believe are necessary for our states,” he said.

As the town hall meeting was getting underway Tuesday, three leading medical and health organizations urged Americans to stay home to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are honored to serve and put our lives on the front line to protect and save as many lives as possible,” the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and American Nurses Association wrote in an open letter. “But we need your help.”

But the president and vice president were resolute that they want the country reopened. Mr. Pence said the administration’s timeline for trying to get businesses restarted and workers out of their homes was shorter than the period that health experts have said would be necessary to flatten the curve.

“We’ll focus on our most vulnerable, but putting America back to work will also be a priority, in weeks not months,” Mr. Pence said.

Mr. Trump struck a remarkably different tone from other world leaders. In Italy, which has more coronavirus deaths than any other country, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Tuesday that he was raising the fines on people who defy the lockdown order.

Mr. Pence also said two malaria drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for off-label use treating patients with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The F.D.A. did not immediately confirm that assertion, but two administration health officials said it was not true.

The White House had teamed up with the computer technology giant Oracle to promote the drugs, which Mr. Trump has touted repeatedly, even before the government approved their use for the outbreak, according to five senior administration officials and others familiar with the plans.

Given a microphone for nearly two hours, Mr. Trump also used a town hall on Fox News for politics. Within moments of going live, he went after his likely foe in November, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

He referred to him as “Sleepy Joe” and claimed that Mr. Biden did not know what the word “xenophobic” meant when he criticized Mr. Trump’s approach to the spreading coronavirus.

India, the world’s second-most populous country, will order its 1.3 billion people to stay inside their homes for three weeks to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared on Tuesday.

The extensive lockdown order was declared a day after the authorities there grounded all domestic flights.

Mr. Modi said the decree would take effect at midnight.

“There will be a total ban of coming out of your homes,” Mr. Modi said.

“Every district, every lane, every village will be under lockdown,” he said. “If you can’t handle these 21 days, this country will go back 21 years.”

“The only option is social distancing, to remain away from each other,” he said. “There is no way out to escape from coronavirus besides this.”

Left unclear was how Indians would be able to get food and other needed supplies. Mr. Modi alluded vaguely to the government and civil society groups stepping in to help, but offered no details.

Though India’s number of reported coronavirus cases remains relatively low, around 500, the fear is that if the virus hits as it has in the United States, Europe or China, it could be a disaster far bigger than anywhere else.

Mr. Modi also pledged to spend about $2 billion on medical supplies, isolation rooms, ventilators, intensive care units and training for medical personnel to combat the pandemic.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who last week adopted a friendly tone toward Mr. Trump, got as close as he has to chastising the federal government, which has so far sent 400 ventilators to New York City.

“You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators,” Mr. Cuomo said. “What are we going to do with 400 ventilators when we need 30,000 ventilators? You’re missing the magnitude of the problem, and the problem is defined by the magnitude.”

At a Fox News town hall, Mr. Trump lashed out at Mr. Cuomo, who has been holding daily briefings of his own that have gained national attention as fact-based and emotional counters to Mr. Trump’s own daily briefings. Mr. Cuomo, who is seeking federal aid, has at times complimented Mr. Trump for his leadership during the crisis.

But Mr. Trump said he did not appreciate criticism he saw on television from someone he views as a rival. “I watch him on this show complaining,” Mr. Trump said. “He had 16,000 ventilators he could have had a great price and he didn’t buy them.”

Mr. Cuomo, speaking at the Javits Center in Manhattan, which the Army Corps is retrofitting into a 1,000-bed emergency hospital, said the rate of new coronavirus infections in New York is doubling about every three days.

“We haven’t flattened the curve,” he said. “And the curve is actually increasing.” The governor, appearing in front of piles of medical supplies, spoke in a far more sober tone and delivered notably bleaker news than he has in previous days.

The peak of infection in New York could come as soon as two to three weeks, far earlier than previously anticipated, Mr. Cuomo said, which would put even bigger strain on the health care system than officials had feared.

“The apex is higher than we thought and the apex is sooner than we thought,” Mr. Cuomo said. “That is a bad combination of facts.”

The governor said the state now projects that it may need as many as 140,000 hospital beds to house virus patients, up from the 110,000 projected a few days ago. As of now, only 53,000 are available. Up to 40,000 intensive-care beds could be needed. “Those are troubling and astronomical numbers,” he said.

As of Tuesday morning, New York State had 25,665 cases, with at least 157 deaths. The state now accounts for nearly 7 percent of global cases tallied by The New York Times.

Some 13 percent of people who have tested positive were hospitalized as of Tuesday, with nearly a quarter of those hospitalized in intensive care.

“That’s the problem,” Mr. Cuomo said. “As the number of cases go up, the number of people in hospital beds goes up, the number of people who need an I.C.U. bed and a ventilator goes up, and we cannot address that increasing curve.”

In New York City alone, there have been around 15,000 cases.

“Look at us today,” he warned the rest of the country. “Where we are today, you will be in four weeks or five weeks or six weeks. We are your future.”

With the epidemic in New York exploding, other states rushed to protect themselves.

On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis, expanding on his mandatory 14-day quarantine for New York area travelers to Florida, says he will sign a second order extending a self-isolation requirement for anyone who traveled from the New York area in the last three weeks.

Many cases in places like Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach have been tied to New York, and a recent uptick in travel from the region suggested New Yorkers were flying to Florida to flee shelter-in-place orders.

“Hopefully that will be a deterrent for people if you’re just trying to escape here,” Mr. DeSantis said on Monday. The quarantine will not apply to people arriving by car.

Terrence McNally, the four-time Tony Award-winning playwright whose outpouring of work for the theater dramatized and domesticated gay life across five decades, died on Tuesday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Fla. He was 81.

The cause was complications from the coronavirus, a spokesman, Matt Polk, said. He said Mr. McNally had chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and had overcome lung cancer.

Mr. McNally’s Tony Awards attest to his versatility. Two were for books for musicals, “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1993) and “Ragtime” (1998), and two were for plays, and vastly different ones: “Love! Valor! Compassion!” (1995), about gay men who share a vacation house, and “Master Class” (1996), in which the opera diva Maria Callas reflects on her career.

And those prize winners were only a small part of his oeuvre. With 36 plays to his credit, as well as the books for 10 musicals, the librettos for four operas and a handful of screenplays for film and television, Mr. McNally was a remarkably prolific and consistent dramatist.

His career, which began on Broadway in 1963 with an adaptation of “The Lady of the Camellias,” starring Susan Strasberg, continued without much interruption through last year’s revival of his “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” starring Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon.

In between, in a series of successes including “The Ritz,” “The Lisbon Traviata,” “Lips Together, Teeth Apart” and “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” Mr. McNally introduced Broadway and Off Broadway audiences to characters and situations that most mainstream theater had previously shunted into comic asides.

Perhaps it was inevitable that New York City and surrounding suburbs would become the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in the United States. The population density, reliance on public transportation and constant influx of tourists — all would seem to make the metropolitan area a target.

But to stop the virus, scientists have to figure out which factors played a greater role than others. As it turns out, that is not so simple.

“We have more speculation than facts,” said Dr. Arnold Monto, professor of epidemiology and global health at the University of Michigan.

There was surely an early and undetected introduction of the virus into the city, probably in mid- to late January, according to Benjamin Cowling, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong.

“Many of the cases being detected in the past week are the result of that slow process that has built up over two months,” he said.

Normally, scientists can get a sense of the exact timing by comparing the mutations in the virus from samples taken at various times. But human coronaviruses are surprisingly stable, said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Perhaps the epidemic in New York had less to do with the virus than with discrete opportunities to spread: In so-called super-spreader events, one patient somehow manages to infect dozens, even scores of others. At one point, half the cases in Massachusetts were attributed to a single initial infection.

The virus often seems to spread in defined clusters in New York, as it has elsewhere.

“When you see a case, you see a lot of cases,” said Donald Berry, a biostatistician at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

In New York, he added, “It all comes together to spell a very bad picture.”

The city’s own demographics may have contributed: dense, yes, but in a way that puts the elderly in close proximity to one another, along with those made vulnerable by underlying health conditions.

“This is not flu, which many of our modelers use, and this is not going to be 1918,” Dr. Monto. “The problem is that it is hard to know what it is.”

“That is what scares people,” he added.

Top Democrats and Trump administration officials said they were optimistic about finalizing an agreement on Tuesday on a roughly $2 trillion economic stabilization plan to respond to the pandemic, after striking a tentative deal to add oversight requirements for a $500 billion government bailout fund for distressed companies.

“We’re looking forward to closing a bipartisan deal today,” Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, told reporters as he arrived on Capitol Hill for a round of meetings on Tuesday morning.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there was “real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours” after Democrats won crucial concessions from the Trump administration.

In an interview on CNBC, she said the emerging deal would include strict oversight over the bailout fund, including installing an inspector general to monitor it, as well as what Ms. Pelosi described as a congressional panel “appointed by us to provide constraint.” The measures are similar to those put in place as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the centerpiece of the Wall Street bailout enacted in 2008 to respond to the financial meltdown.

Democrats had balked at a version of the stimulus measure drafted by Republicans that they were concerned would give the Treasury secretary too much latitude in deciding…


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