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Murder or salvation? Southern US states to relax Covid-19 lockdowns amid outcry

Murder or salvation? Southern US states to relax Covid-19 lockdowns amid outcry
Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina are saying they will start reopening some stores and public spaces shuttered by pandemic fears, triggering partisan outrage and accusations of having a racist death wish.

Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee announced on Monday that he will not extend his stay-at-home order past April 30 and may allow some businesses and state parks to open before that. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster ordered access to public beaches and some retailers restored starting Tuesday.

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Yet it was Georgia Governor Brian Kemp who took the brunt of the outrage after he announced on Monday that he would allow “gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, their respective schools and massage therapists” to reopen on Friday.

Kemp “cares more about showing his slavish loyalty to Trump than he does the people of his state,” declared New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie, adding that almost 700 Georgians have died from Covid-19.

There are now nearly 19,000 cases and 52 new deaths in the state, CNN commentator Keith Boykin pointed out.

Mother Jones editor Clara Jeffery said out loud what others were insinuating, claiming that Kemp “stole an election to murder people” – in reference to the widespread belief among Democrats that the Republican governor defeated their candidate Stacey Abrams only through “voter suppression” that was never actually documented.

This has not stopped other partisan critics of the governor to accuse him of wanting Georgians to die, as Democrat strategist Matt Blakely did with a meme.

Others went straight to the Civil War. New Republic editor Adam Weinstein quipped that Kemp will “kill more Georgians than General Sherman” – a reference to the Union officer who burned a path from Atlanta to the sea in 1864.

Another Twitter user posted a meme inspired by the Confederate flag, with stars replaced by hooded figures in red hats – a reference to both the racist Ku Klux Klan and President Donald Trump’s trademark Make America Great Again headwear.

Not to be outdone, one online Resistance activist with over 200,000 followers compared Kemp to Adolf Hitler.

Interestingly, many of the businesses Kemp listed as due to reopen are owned and operated by African-Americans, whose livelihoods have been crushed by the extended lockdown.

It certainly appears that the scope of the hyperbolic reaction has been driven by the 2018 election grudges. However, similar vitriol was also on display last week when Jacksonville, Florida decided to reopen a public beach. The loudest voices condemning the reopenings are not public health officials, scientists or professionals, but media figures and partisan activists – whose livelihoods have not been impacted by the shutdown.

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Much of the US has been on some form of lockdown for over a month now, in a bid to prevent hospitals from collapsing under the caseload. While that strategy has been successful, it had the catastrophic side effect of wrecking the economy, with more than 22 million Americans losing their jobs so far.

The US has registered more than 780,000 cases of the coronavirus, with the death toll now over 42,000.

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