Barr says ‘draconian’ lockdown measures should be reexamined by May

Attorney General William Barr late Wednesday suggested that the federal government in May should begin relaxing some of the “draconian” social distancing restrictions imposed throughout the U.S. 

Barr said in an interview with Fox News that the U.S. had to be “very careful” to ensure some of the measures being “adopted are fully justified, and there are not alternative ways of protecting people” amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“I think, you know, when this — when this period of time is — at the end of April expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have and not just tell people to go home and hide under the bed, but allow them to use other ways — social distancing and other means — to protect themselves,” he said. 

The White House released guidelines last month urging Americans to avoid nonessential travel and gatherings with more than 10 people until the end of April. Several states have imposed even stricter measures as part of an effort to keep people home and avoid straining health care systems experiencing a surge in patients. 

Barr noted that the U.S. is in a situation “akin to wartime” and that “the government can impose certain limitations” in those scenarios. But he said that the Justice Department would continue to keep an eye on any actions that “restrict people’s liberty.”

He also expressed concerns over mechanisms being used to track the spread of the virus. 

“I’m very concerned about the slippery slope in terms of continuing encroachments on personal liberty,” he said. “I do think during the emergency, appropriate, reasonable steps are fine.”

The comments arrived as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, continued to climb in the U.S. As of Thursday morning, the U.S. had reported roughly 432,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 14,800 deaths from it. 

New York state, the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., has reported more than 5,000 deaths alone. 

Leading health experts have continually called for keeping social distancing requirements in place until the U.S. sees a significant and consistent drop in the number of hospitalizations from the virus. Those requirements have devastated the economy, leading to a wave of business closures and a surge in unemployment applications. 

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