(Recasts with quotes from Trump)
By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, March 24 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump pressed his case on Tuesday for a re-opening of the U.S. economy by mid-April despite a surge in coronavirus cases, downplaying the pandemic as he did in its early stages by comparing it to the seasonal flu.
Trump and his coronavirus team on March 16 put in place recommendations for people across the country to cut down social and professional interactions for 15 days in a bid to reduce the virus' spread.
But the president, a Republican who is seeking re-election in November, has begun to chafe at the economic repercussions.
During a live town hall broadcast on Fox News Channel, he said he would like to have businesses opening their doors again by Easter, which will be celebrated on April 12.
"I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter," he said.
The president said the country did not take drastic measures to fight car crashes and flu deaths similar to those it is taking for the coronavirus. He said Americans could continue practicing social-distancing measures, which health experts say are crucial to prevent infection, while also going back to work.
"We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don't turn the country off," Trump said. "You can destroy a country this way by closing it down."
The president has come under criticism from fellow Republicans and others for saying he would like to reopen the economy, even as the Pentagon and others forecast the outbreak could last for months.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, told CNN on Tuesday: "We don't think that we're going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days or so, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock."
Fox has come under criticism for its own treatment of the virus as some opinion program hosts played it down in the early period of its spread.
The president, who said early on in the crisis that the virus was under control, has been stunned by its impact on the economy and the stock market.
"Our people want to return to work," he said on Twitter earlier on Tuesday. "They will practice Social Distancing and all else, and Seniors will be watched over protectively & lovingly. We can do two things together. THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM!"
Trump and his economic and health advisers are mulling how to proceed after the 15-day period of tough measures to slow the pandemic.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, speaking to reporters at the White House, said the Trump administration was looking at low-infection areas where the economy might be reopened after a 15-day shutdown period ends next week. (Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Tim Ahmann, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)
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