Pennsylvania protesters decry shelter in place orders as state hits 1,200 COVID-19 deaths

Hundreds of people including lawmakers gathered in the US state of Pennsylvania Monday to protest measures that are urging most of the nation to stay home due to the coronavirus pandemic.


The "Patriots Rally" demonstration in state capital Harrisburg follows similar protests -- cheered on by President Donald Trump -- elsewhere in the United States, including in Michigan, California and Ohio.

Protestors say government regulations intended to halt the spread of COVID-19 -- a highly contagious virus that's killed more than 40,000 people stateside, having ravaged several countries in the European Union -- limits individual freedoms and harms the economy.

Trucks painted with slogans including "work not welfare" and "shelter in place isn't freedom!" paraded throughout Harrisburg, as Republican representatives from Congress rallied protestors marching at the steps of the capitol building.

"Our new normal does not mean we will sacrifice our freedoms for the safety of our country," said state lawmaker Aaron Bernstine, in a speech punctuated by "USA" chants.

"Normal is not taking government handouts allowing us to pay our bills."

The US government recently began issuing one-time payments as high as $1,200 to many residents with additional supplements for children, as the fast-spreading coronavirus has left a staggering 22 million people in the US out of work.

Among Monday's protest organizers are a trio of conservative pro-gun activist brothers who have instigated anti-quarantine demonstrations throughout the country.

As he faces re-election later this year Trump has been anxious to reboot the nation's economy and send Americans back to work, while state governors voice frustration that there is not yet enough virus testing to safely re-open businesses.

Though the protests at US statehouses have drummed up much media attention and online activity, they remain fringe: more than 80 percent of Americans would approve of a national stay-at-home order, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.

The poll indicates that nearly 70 percent of Republicans and 95 percent of Democrats would back such a measure.

Yet Monday's Harrisburg protest highlighted the exasperation of many Americans stuck at home.

Tom Ryan, a certified public accountant, traveled from Pittsburgh to Pennsylvania's capital to protest, pro-Trump red caps in hand.

"You can't shut everything down just because we have a health issue," he told AFP. "We have to figure out how to balance things."

More than 1,200 people in Pennsylvania, home to 12.8 million, have died of COVID-19, with more than 33,000 confirmed infections.

The eastern state's governor Tom Wolf last week released "regional, sector-based approach" framework to incrementally re-open shuttered businesses, with calls for a "strong testing regime."