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‘We’re being held hostage!’ Minnesota governor eases coronavirus lockdown after angry outcry from #ReopenMN protesters

While some forms of outdoor recreation were permitted under a previous directive, an array of businesses will be allowed to reopen after Friday’s executive order, including golf courses, privately managed trails and parks, marinas and docks, bait shops, showrooms and repair shops for off-road vehicles, and outdoor shooting ranges.

The new relaxed rules came on the heels of heated protest from Minnesota residents, who gathered outside of the governor’s mansion in St. Paul on Friday to call on officials to repeal the stay-at-home order, in force since late March. Those who couldn’t join in person did so digitally, through the #ReopenMN hashtag.

Spurred on by the US president himself – who tweeted in typical all-caps Trumpian style “LIBERATE MINNESOTA” earlier on Friday – some protesters compared the lockdown to “being held hostage,” while another went all-out, dubbing it a “dictatorship.

While the parallels between Minnesota’s stay-at-home directive and totalitarian rule may be somewhat exaggerated, the lockdown does have some teeth, threatening 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for workers who disregard the rules, and up to one year’s jail time and a $3,000 penalty for business owners, with the possibility for another $25,000 in fines if officials deem it necessary. At least 25 state residents have been charged for violations of the order, which was recently extended to May 4 by the governor.

As debates raged online and in the street, some critics deemed the protesters “selfish” for sidestepping social distancing guidelines, observing that Friday marked the state’s deadliest day yet in its outbreak, which saw another 17 fatalities. The new fatal cases brought Minnesota’s death toll up to 111, out of just over 2,000 infections in total.

With President Trump stating the US – the world’s top hotspot for Covid-19 – had reached the “peak” of its outbreak, on Thursday the White House unveiled new guidelines for governors, setting out a path to reopening the country and lifting sweeping containment measures imposed across dozens of states. Authorities for exactly when and how to reopen were largely left with state governments, which will ease restrictions in phases depending on the rate of new infections, among other things.

Though Minnesota has begun to repeal its own lockdown, its stay-at-home order will remain in force for several weeks to come. With citizens still under orders to limit travel, and prohibitions on a slew of activities – such as camping – still in place, outrage among cabin-fevered residents is unlikely to die down.

Header: Protesters hold signs in opposition to Virginia’s stay-at-home order, part of a growing number of residents across several states demanding an end to lockdown measures. © Reuters / Kevin Lamarque