Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks at a press conference in Los Angeles, California. File/AFP
The mayor of Los Angeles on Friday dismissed a Trump administration warning that the city's continued lockdown due to coronavirus could be illegal, saying he would not be "pushed by politics."
Eric Garcetti, the Democratic leader of the United States' second-largest city, was sent a letter earlier Friday by federal authorities that said long-term restrictions "may be both arbitrary and unlawful."
"We are not guided by politics in this — we are guided by science, we are guided by collaboration," said Garcetti when asked about the missive at a press conference.
"There's no games, there's nothing else going on. And that's the way we're going to continue to safely open," he added.
Los Angeles has begun to reopen facilities from beaches and golf courses to restaurants and retail businesses offering curbside pick-up services, but lags behind other parts of California.
Densely-populated Los Angeles county has suffered more than 43,000 confirmed cases, with 2,049 deaths — well over half of the state's fatalities.
Widely reported comments from a county health official last week that restrictions could last another three months drew the Trump administration's ire.
"We remain concerned about what may be an arbitrary and heavy-handed approach to continuing stay-at-home requirements," the Department of Justice letter said.
"The Constitution and federal statutory law prohibit arbitrary, unreasonable actions," it added.
President Donald Trump, with an eye on his re-election prospects in November, has pressed for a further reopening of the United States as job losses mount from coronavirus shutdowns.
Trump earlier Friday demanded state governors allow places of worship to reopen immediately.
Los Angeles and California were among the first in the nation to impose stay-at-home orders, in March.
"Let's not wait one day, longer than we have to. At the same time, let's not be pushed by politics or some other reasons to go one day earlier than is safe," said Garcetti.
"Because people's lives are at stake."
The president congratulated Washington's mayor on $876 million in federal coronavirus relief going to the Washington-area Metro system — money that was surely welcome but not under the mayor's jurisdiction, instead going to a regional transportation authority.
Three members of the White House coronavirus task force, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, placed themselves in quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, another stark reminder that not even one of the nation’s most secure buildings is immune from the virus.
Trump, who flew back to Washington after a weekend golfing at his Florida resort and having dinner with Brazil's right-wing president, has spent weeks dismissing the seriousness of the threat.
Trump, in a rare Oval Office address to the nation on Wednesday night, said the month-long restriction on travel would begin late on Friday, at midnight. After days of playing down the coronavirus threat, he blamed Europe for not acting quickly enough to address the "foreign virus” and claimed that US clusters were "seeded” by European travellers.
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