Trump: I downplayed Covid-19 threat so as not to create panic

Washington, Sep 9 (efe-epa).- President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he tried to contain “panic” and avoid a “frenzy” in the investment markets when early this year he repeatedly publicly minimized the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic, as revealed in excerpts from a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

“I’m a cheerleader for this country. I love our country and I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic as you say and certainly I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy,” said Trump in remarks to journalists at the White House reacting to the revelations in the book that were made public on Wednesday.

“We want to show confidence. We want to show strength … as a nation and that’s what I’ve done and we’ve done very well – we’ve done well from any standard,” the president added.

When asked whether he had deliberately deceived Americans about the danger posed by the pandemic, the president responded: “If you said ‘in order to reduce panic,’ perhaps that’s so.”

Trump reacted to the revelation divulged on Wednesday by The Washington Post, and included in the book Woodward will publish next week, that the president knew in February that Covid-19 was an especially “deadly” disease, but he intentionally downplayed its seriousness to the public.

“It goes through air, Bob,” Trump told Woodward during interviews for the book last February, according to a recent recording obtained by CNN. “That’s always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch, you don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so, that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than your – you know even your strenuous flus.”

But he said that he had downplayed the seriousness of the disease and, in effect, misled the public so as to avoid scaring people, potentially causing prices to skyrocket.

A reporter asked him why, if he was aware starting in early February that the pandemic could cause serious harm to the country, he waited until March to mobilize the most powerful tools of the federal government to begin to deal with the threat.

“Certainly, I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy,” Trump said in defending his comments to Woodward. “The job we’ve done has been incredible. … But we don’t want to instill panic. We don’t want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem that is a tremendous problem, scare everybody.”

The United States is the country that has suffered the most confirmed cases and deaths from Covid-19 with more than 6.3 million people having been infected and almost 190,000 deaths from the disease, according to the ongoing tally being kept by The Johns Hopkins University.

According to Woodward’s book – titled “Rage” and which will go on sale on Sept. 15 – Trump told the veteran journalist on Feb. 7 that Covid-19 was “more deadly than … even your (most serious) flus,” adding that tens of thousands of Americans die each year as a matter of course from the regular yearly flu.

Woodward’s revelation about the president’s behavior and attitude vis-a-vis the pandemic sparked harsh condemnation from Trump’s Democratic rival in the November presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, who accused the president of “lying to the American people.”

Trump “knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months,” Biden said Wednesday in Warren, Michigan, at the start of a speech that otherwise was focused on the US economy.

“He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was and while this deadly disease ripped through our nation he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life and death betrayal of the American people,” the former vice president said.

“His failure has not only cost lives, he’s sent our economy in a tailspin, and cost millions more in American livelihoods,” Biden went on to say. “It’s beyond despicable. It’s a dereliction of duty. It’s a disgrace.”

Earlier on Wednesday, senior public health officials sought to assure senators that any vaccine developed against Covid-19 will not be linked in any way to the ongoing political debate.

“Science and science alone will be the way this decision is made, or I will have no part of it,” said Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, during an appearance before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

The potential vaccine this week has been in the spotlight of the election debate after Trump on Monday accused Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, of undermining public confidence for political ends.

Trump insisted that the vaccine will be available in “record time” and lambasted Harris for having said that she did not have any confidence in the president’s promises about the safety of a vaccine if they were not accompanied by guarantees from scientists.

Collins, who said that he will not take part in approving a vaccine unless science guides it, declared himself to be “cautiously optimistic” about the possibility that the vaccine will be approved before the end of the year.

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