As he fights the US’s largest coronavirus outbreak, New York governor Andrew Cuomo has rejected Donald Trump’s view that protecting the American economy is of paramount concern.

Mr Trump has tended toward the optimistic while also foregrounding the economy in many of his statements. He recently opined that the country may start to return to normal after just 15 days, and that “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself!”

Saying that “our country wasn’t built to be shut down”, the president insisted at a White House press briefing that “America will again and soon be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting.”

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But Mr Cuomo, whose state has seen more than 20,000 coronavirus cases, is warning that the coronavirus crisis will “get much worse before it gets better”, and that economic considerations must take a back seat to saving people’s lives.

He expanded on the theme during a press conference at a Manhattan convention centre being turned into a temporary hospital.

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“My adage in these disasters, emergencies has always been: Do everything you can, prepare for the worst, hope for the best. This is a public health emergency. This is a matter of life and death. The economy we can fix. You know the old expression, a rich person is a person who has their health.

“Anything else you can remedy. You can’t remedy a loss of your health. You can’t remedy loss of life. And that has to be the first priority.”

In a tweet mentioning his brother Chris, a CNN host, Mr Cuomo put it more bluntly: “If it’s public health versus the economy, the only choice is public health. You cannot put a value on human life. You do the right thing. That’s what Pop taught us @ChrisCuomo”

Other governors besides Mr Cuomo are putting the safety of their citizens ahead of concerns about economic fallout. Several large states, including Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey are now in some form of shutdown, meaning one in three Americans is now under orders to stay at home.

California’s Gavin Newsom, in particular, has pursued strict social distancing measures that, thanks to the state’s sheer size, will inevitably make a major impact on the US economy.

Nonetheless, Mr Trump’s economy-first thinking has plenty of support on the right. Referencing reports that unemployment might reach 30 per cent, Fox News host and commentator Laura Ingraham tweeted: “Cannot be allowed to happen to our great country.”

And the lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, went so far as to say that if he had to choose between the lives of older Americans and the future of the economy, he would pick the latter

“No-one reached out to me and said, ‘as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

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