Washington DC: US President Donald Trump on Thursday unveiled a new phase-wise approach to reopen the country's economy, jolted by the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing Governors to take decisions on lifting curbs in their states.

Currently more than 95% of America's 330 million population are under a stay-at-home order and over 22 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits.

More than 6,40,000 Americans have contracted the coronavirus, and over 31,000 have lost their lives.

Asserting that a prolonged lockdown, combined with a forced economic depression, would inflict an immense and wide-ranging toll on public health, Trump told reporters on Thursday that his administration is issuing new federal guidelines that will allow Governors to take a phased and calibrated approach to reopening their individual states.

Trump said healthy Americans will now be able to return to work if conditions on the ground allow.

"Instead of a blanket shutdown, we will pursue a focus on sheltering the highest risk individuals,” he said, adding that his administration is establishing clear scientific metrics and benchmarks on testing new case growth and hospital capacity that must be met before advancing to each phase.

"If the virus returns in the fall, as some scientists think it may, possibly, these guidelines will ensure that our country is up and running so that we can likewise put it out quickly," he said.

The guidelines were developed by top medical experts from across the government and are based on verifiable metrics regarding the situation on the ground. The guidelines empower Governors to tailor the phased reopening to address the situation in their states.

The guidelines criteria set clear benchmarks on new cases, testing, and hospital resources for states to meet before proceeding toward a phased reopening.

For the first phase, the guidelines recommend that States see a downward trajectory for 14 days in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases as well as flu-like symptoms before they move to lift stay-at-home orders and other restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus.

The second phase includes asking for all vulnerable individuals to shelter in place, encourage tele-work, and the common areas should remain closed or be physically distant.

All nonessential travel for employees can resume, and then again special accommodations for vulnerable. “Large venues can operate but solely under moderate physical distancing, and elective surgeries can resume on an outpatient and inpatient basis," said Dr Deborah Brix, a member of the White House Task Force on coronavirus.

Phase three is essentially returning to the new normal with continuing the good hygiene practices, continuing the respect for spaces between individuals because there are still issues with asymptomatic spread, she said.

The criteria also include hospitals having the resources to treat all patients without crisis care and a robust testing program for healthcare workers.

"We took the greatest economy in the history of the world, and we closed it in order to win this war, and we are in the process of winning it now. Our approach outlines three phases in restoring our economic life. We are not opening all at once but one careful step at a time, and some states will be able to open up sooner than others. Some states are not in the kind of trouble that others are in,” Trump told reporters during his daily White House news conference on coronavirus.

Now that the country has passed the peak on new cases, people are starting their life again. “We are starting to rejuvenate our economy again in a safe and structured and very responsible fashion,” he said.

“Our strategy will continue to protect senior citizens and other vulnerable populations while allowing military and other groups of incredibly talented people to go about their real business and the business that is supposed to be hard at work at doing, and nobody does it better," Trump said.

Vice President Mike Pence said that the new guidelines for opening up America again are a product of the best science and the best common sense that the president has marshalled on his team and from a broad range of advisors from all across the nation.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health, cautioned against packed sports even in the phase three.

With PTI Inputs