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 that he had spoken with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, among 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."

US President Donald Trump speaks to the media on Saturday. Credit:Bloomberg

But Trump may not need to order a legally justifiable quarantine. One idea under consideration would be to tell residents of those areas to isolate themselves and not travel for two weeks, just as the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have instructed anyone who recently left New York to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to one person familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing deliberations.

The measure wouldn't necessarily come with any legal justification or penalty, just the hope that people would comply to try to contain the virus spread.

The governors of Florida, Maryland, South Carolina and Texas already have ordered people arriving from the New York area to self-quarantine for at least 14 days upon arrival. In a more dramatic step, Rhode Island police have begun pulling over drivers with New York plates so that the National Guard can collect contact information and inform them of a mandatory, 14-day quarantine.

Trump said the idea of isolating many in the trio of Democratic strongholds in the Northeast was pushed by DeSantis, one of the president's most outspoken supporters. It came a day after Trump made clear he wanted governors to be grateful when asking for federal support for the pandemic.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo walks the corridor of a nearly completed makeshift hospital erected by the US Army Corps of Engineers at the Jacob Javits Convention Centre in New York. Credit:Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

Trump said people "go to Florida and a lot of people don't want that. So we'll see what happens." He later clarified it would not affect truckers or people transiting through, and would not affect trade.

"We'll be announcing that one way or the other fairly soon," he said.

Florida is a perennial swing state, and one Trump must win come November – plus he recently moved his residence from New York to Florida. It also has a population of 21 million with a large percentage of old people, who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.

DeSantis confirmed he had spoken with the president about the possibility of a quarantine for the New York City area. Speaking Saturday to reporters, DeSantis said Florida will soon set up a checkpoint along Interstate 95 to screen travellers from that area, similar to one already in place along Interstate 10 to screen people from Louisiana. Many airports in Florida also are screening travellers from certain areas, requiring them to self-isolate for 14 days.

Yellow cabs line and empty 42nd St. waiting for fares outside Grand Central Terminal this week. Credit:AP

"I think whatever works is what we need to do," DeSantis said.

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

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said he did not talk about quarantining the tri-state area in his recent conversation with Trump, and learned of the president's comments as he walked into Saturday's daily briefing.

"Until further notified we're going to keep doing exactly what we're doing, because we believe the data and the facts are on our side in terms of this aggressive, as aggressive as any American state right now, in terms of social distancing and flattening the curve," he said.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, also a Democrat, said he'd already called on residents to stay home.

"I look forward to speaking to the President directly about his comments and any further enforcement actions, because confusion leads to panic," he said in a statement.

The quarantine idea comes a day after the president took a round of steps to expand the federal government's role in helping produce critically needed supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic, even as he warned the leaders of hard-hit states not to cross him.

"I want them to be appreciative," Trump said Friday after the White House announced he would be using the powers granted to him under the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to try to compel auto giant General Motors to produce ventilators.

Yet Trump – who hours earlier had suggested the need for the devices was being overblown – rejected any criticism of the federal government's response to a ballooning public health crisis that a month ago he predicted would be over by now.

After speaking in Norfolk, Trump watched as the USS Comfort slowly made its way out of port. The 1,000-bed hospital ship had been undergoing planned maintenance, but was rushed back into service to aid the city.

It is scheduled to arrive Monday at a Manhattan pier a week after its sister ship, the USNS Mercy, arrived in Los Angeles to perform a similar duty on the West Coast.

"We will stop at nothing to protect the health of New Yorkers and the health of the people of our country in their hour of need," Trump said.

The ship has 12 operating rooms as well as radiology suites and a CT scanner. It also has ICU beds, a lab and a pharmacy. The 1,100 or so medical staff on board are mostly active duty service members from the US Navy, and some reservists, who serve on the East Coast.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.

AP

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