New York postpones presidential primary amid coronavirus, Trump mulls quarantine

A cyclist crosses a deserted 7th Ave in Times Square during the outbreak of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 26, 2020.
A cyclist crosses a deserted 7th Ave in Times Square during the outbreak of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 26, 2020. © Carlo Allegri, Reuters

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Saturday the state will postpone its presidential primary election by nearly two months, citing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, while Donald Trump said he is considering imposing a quarantine on New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. 

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The vote, which had been slated for April 28, will instead take place on June 23, Cuomo said. That was a longer delay than in several other states that have postponed voting, but New York has been hit much harder by the virus than any other US state.

Two of the other states most affected by COVID-19 have already voted -- California on March 3 and Washington on March 10 -- while New Jersey voters are to cast ballots on June 2. "I don't think it's wise to be bringing a lot of people to one location to vote," Cuomo said during a daily briefing on the spread of the virus.

New York so far has reported 52,318 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 728 deaths.

Ten other American states, as well as the US territory of Puerto Rico, postponed their primaries earlier, while other states are shifting to exclusively mail-in balloting.

After a remarkable turnaround on the back of a barmstorming victory in the South Carolina primary on February 29, Barack Obama's former Vice President Joe Biden currently holds a strong lead in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

He controls 1,217 delegates to the party's nominating convention in July, compared to 914 for Senator Bernie Sanders, his last remaining rival. Nomination requires a total of 1,991 delegates. 

The US leads the world in reported cases with more than 115,000. There were roughly 1,900 deaths recorded by Saturday.

Trump considers quarantine measures

For his part, President Donald Trump said he was considering a quarantine as early as Saturday for coronavirus hotspots in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, though it wasn't clear whether he had the power to order state residents to stay put.

Trump told reporters at the White House that he had spoken with Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, amongst others, and that "a lot of the states that are infected but don’t have a big problem, they’ve asked me if I’ll look at it so we’re going to look at it.”

But Cuomo, who criticised the federal government’s response as his state became the country's virus epicentre, said the issue had not come up in a conversation he had with Trump earlier Saturday. 

 “I don’t even know what that means,” the Democrat said at a briefing in New York. "I don’t know how that could be legally enforceable, and from a medical point of view, I don’t know what you would be accomplishing. ... I don’t like the sound of it.”

The US federal government is empowered under the law to take measures to prevent the spread of communicable diseases between states, but it's not clear that means Trump can ban people from leaving their state. It has never been tested in the modern era — and in rare cases when any quarantine was challenged, the courts generally sided with public health officials. 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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