Barr Says It’s Time to Roll Back Virus Limits in ‘Sensible’ Way


(Bloomberg) -- Attorney General William Barr said it’s time “to start rolling back” in a measured way restrictions that were put in place to deal with the coronavirus crisis, a signal the Justice Department could consider legal action against officials who resist acting.

“Now that the curve has been flattened, the rate of spread has been slowed, our system has not been overwhelmed and has time to adjust to the situation, it’s time to start rolling back some of these restrictions in an orderly and sensible way,” Barr said Friday in a question-and-answer forum on Twitter.

The comments appeared to go beyond remarks last month that the Justice Department would eventually look at whether restrictions such as stay-at-home orders and directives closing businesses were unconstitutional at a certain point. And they fall in line with increasing calls by many conservatives to loosen limits that have shuttered businesses and fueled an unprecedented wave of unemployment.

Earlier this week, Barr appointed the head of the department’s civil rights division, Eric Dreiband, and U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider in Michigan to oversee implementation of a directive calling on top Justice Department officials and U.S. attorneys to take legal action against state and local officials if their coronavirus restrictions go too far, saying “the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”

At the same time, health officials have warned that easing restrictions too quickly could spark a second rise in Covid-19 illnesses and deaths. So far, the pandemic has killed more than 62,000 people, topping American losses in the Vietnam War.

The number of virus cases in Texas rose 4.1% to 29,229 in one day, New Jersey reported record deaths from the virus on one day this week, and New York announced schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year. In the meantime, a group of medical experts said the global outbreak may last for two years.

Nevertheless, state and local officials are under increasingly pressure. Armed protesters gathered outside the doors of Michigan’s legislature this week in the most dramatic sign of organized pressure on lawmakers, but that state isn’t alone. Florida plans to reopen state parks on May 4 as part of an initial relaxation of virus measures, and Georgia began easing up late last month.

By Monday, roughly half the U.S. will have reopened businesses on some scale despite the possibility of renewed outbreaks.

At the same time, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released April 24, 80% of Americans supported sheltering guidelines, and the same percentage said they can continue to stay home for at least another month.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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