Coronavirus: California residents ordered to stay at home

US state governor tells President Donald Trump that half of California's population could get infected

California's governor ordered the US state's 40 million residents to stay home indefinitely and venture outside only for essential jobs, errands and some exercise, and warned that the coronavirus threatened to overwhelm the state's medical system.

The move by Governor Gavin Newsom, the most sweeping by any state so far, was an exclamation point at the end of a week of increasingly aggressive moves meant to keep the virus in check by forcing people to stay away from each other as often as possible.

"I can assure you home isolation is not my preferred choice, I know it’s not yours, but it’s a necessary one,” Mr Newsom said at a news conference on Thursday evening.

He assured residents that they “can still take your kids outside, practising common sense and social distancing. You can still walk your dog”. Restaurant meals can still be delivered to homes.

The announcement came after Mr Newsom released a letter to President Donald Trump warning the virus was spreading quickly and could infect more than half of California's population. A spokesman later clarified that the figure did not take into account the aggressive preventive efforts that have been made.

The economic effects of this emergency are certain to mean that the state and its 58 counties will struggle to maintain essential programmes and services

The governor said he did not expect police would be needed to enforce the stay-at-home order as “social pressure" had already led to social distancing throughout the state.

"I don’t believe the people of California need to be told through law enforcement that it's appropriate just to home isolate," he said.

The Democrat who is barely a year into his first term also called up 500 National Guard troops to help distribute food. The move comes after panic buying led to massive lines at some grocery stores.

Mr Newsom also outlined a series of steps to create more space for hospital patients.

He said the state had taken over a 357-bed bankrupt hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area, would soon announce the purchase of a similarly sized hospital in Southern California and might use dormitories at the state's public colleges and universities. He also asked Mr Trump to dock the Navy's 1,000-patient Mercy hospital ship at Los Angeles port.

There are at least 1,030 confirmed cases in California and 18 people have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 19, 2019 California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks to the press in the spin room after the sixth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by PBS NewsHour & Politico at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a statewide stay-at-home order starting March 19, 2020 evening. “This is a moment we need to make tough decisions," Newsom said at an online news conference. It is the strongest statewide restriction yet aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus. The announcement follows similar orders issued in the past few days across the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles.  / AFP / Agustin PAULLIER

Mr Newsom's statewide order came after counties and communities covering about half the state's population had already issued similar edicts. He said the restriction was “open-ended” because it could raise false hopes if he included an end date.

However, he said he did not expect it would last “many, many months".

Just before Mr Newsom's statewide declaration, Los Angeles announced what officials there called a “Safer at Home" order that carried the same restrictions.

“We’re about to enter into a new way of living here in Los Angeles," Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “What we do and how we do it and if we get this right will determine how long this crisis lasts."

In the letter to Mr Trump seeking the hospital ship, Mr Newsom said California's infection rates were doubling every four days in some areas and that 56 per cent of the state's population could contract the virus in the next eight weeks, which would be more than 22 million people.

He later said the “overwhelming majority won’t have symptoms” and would be fine but that up to 20 per cent could be hospitalised.

“If we meet this moment we can truly bend the curve" of escalating cases, he said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. It can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, for some people, especially older adults and those with existing health problems.

Most people recover – those with mild illness in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks, according to the World Health Organization.

Also on Thursday, Mr Newsom asked House and Senate leaders for $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) to support state and local health systems. He said the money would be needed to do things such as setting up state-run and mobile hospitals, housing options to help people socially distance, and testing and treatment for people without health insurance.

He also asked for assistance to extend unemployment benefits beyond the usual 26-week limit, expand food assistance programmes, resources for the homeless and tribal communities, and to boost childcare programmes. He further asked for assistance for schools, aid to local and state budgets and transportation relief.

“While California has prudently built a sizable Rainy Day Fund over the past 10 years, the economic effects of this emergency are certain to mean that the state and its 58 counties will struggle to maintain essential programmes and services,” he wrote.

Mr Newsom earlier announced $150 million of a $1bn emergency state appropriation would go toward getting homeless people off the streets. He has estimated up to 60,000 of the state's homeless could get infected.