Trump backtracks on plan to dismantle coronavirus task force

By Lucia Leal

Washington, May 6 (efe-epa).- President Donald Trump backpedaled on Wednesday regarding his plan to dismantle the Coronavirus Task Force and will keep the group in existence “indefinitely,” admitting to reporters at an Oval Office with nurses that the pandemic has been worse for the country than the 9/11 terrorist attacks or Pearl Harbor.

Trump thus bowed to the controversy sparked by the revelation on Tuesday that he was planning to eliminate the task force headed by Vice President Mike Pence at a time when Covid-19 cases are continuing to climb in the United States and the number of deaths could double in the next three months to over 134,000, according to calculations by the University of Washington.

“Because of (its) success, the task force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on safety and opening up our country again,” Trump said, adding that “we may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate,” focusing on vaccines and therapeutic treatments.

A few hours later, the president acknowledged that on Tuesday he received several telephone calls advising him not to dissolve the crisis team created in January to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and made up of a mixed group of health experts and the heads of various government agencies.

He said that he had thought he could dismantle is sooner but claimed that, until Tuesday, he had had no idea how popular it was and how much the public valued its contribution.

The president said that next week he will add “two or three” members to the group, without specifying if he will also remove some of the current members, and he emphasized that there will come a time when the team is no longer needed.

However, Trump’s confirmation that starting now the group will focus on “reopening” the country leads one to guess that there will be a probable change in priorities in terms of the team’s work, the emphasis of which will now be more closely linked to reactivating the economy than on containing the spread of the highly infectious and often deadly virus.

It is possible that his retreat on the plan to dissolve the group altogether may simply conceal a new desire to keep it “active” under the same name but changing its membership and functions.

Among the 20 members of the group are Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, who on occasion have diverged from Trump’s statements or have contradicted him and whose defense of maintaining movement restrictions to help limit the spread of the virus has seemed to make the president impatient.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this country is still in the “acceleration phase of the pandemic,” but Trump has said that Americans must accept more deaths because “We have to be warriors. We can’t keep our country closed down for years.”

Surrounded by nurses in the Oval Office, Trump on Wednesday gave one of the prime examples of the duality that has marked his response to the pandemic: he spoke about the situation in terms of warfare and catastrophe but he also minimized it emphasizing that the country has to restart its economy and return to normality.

“This is really the worst attack we’ve ever had. This is worse than Pearl Harbor. This is worse than the World Trade Center. There’s never been an attack like this,” Trump said, adding: “And it should’ve never happened. It could’ve been stopped at the source. It could’ve been stopped in China. It should’ve been stopped right at the source, and it wasn’t.”

At the same Oval Office event, Trump said that he would like all the schools to reopen as soon as possible, despite the fact that the coronavirus continues to spread around the US, surpassing 1,212,000 confirmed cases and 71,500 deaths on Wednesday, according to the unofficial tally being kept by The Johns Hopkins University.

The enormous number of deaths not only tremendously exceeds the 2,400 Americans who died in the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but also the 2,996 victims of the 9/11 attacks, and last week the Covid-19 death toll surpassed the 58,220 Americans killed in almost the two decades of the 1959-1975 Vietnam War.

That huge number evidently has begun to make Trump uncomfortable and the online daily Axios has reported that he has complained to his close advisers about the way that the coronavirus death toll is being calculated and opined that the “real” number of fatalities is much smaller, despite the fact that many experts believe the opposite and that many more people have died from the virus than the “official” figures reflect.

One government official cited by Axios said that it is probable that Trump will begin to publicly question the death toll figure when it approaches his prediction for the maximum number of deaths – about 100,000 – and threatens to damage him politically, taking into account the November vote in which he is running for re-election.

At the current rate of about 2,000 deaths per day, that 100,000 figure should be reached in less than two weeks.


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