President Trump defended his coronavirus response Thursday amid an uproar over his admission he wanted to play down the threat early on, pointing to a decline in new cases and deaths and arguing he never lied to the public.
Mr. Trump said he was truthful despite telling Bob Woodward in early February the coronavirus from China was likely stronger than “strenuous flus” — only to put the pathogens on par with each other in public appearances later on.
“I didn’t lie, what I said is we have to be calm, we can’t be panicked,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “What we’re doing here is leading, and we’re doing it in the proper way.”
The president said he didn’t want to “jump up and down” and scream “death” before because it wasn’t clear how bad the virus would get in the U.S. Today, the death toll is approaching 200,000.
Pressed on whether he could have leveled with the American people — a reporter mentioned German Chancellor Angela Merkel — he said the European Union is having problems, too.
Mr. Trump said the media should be getting his November opponent, Joseph R. Biden, to explain his skepticism of vaccines being sped to approval by his administration.
“You’ve got to talk about how great these vaccines are if, in fact, they’re great,” Mr. Trump said.
New polling suggests most Americans fear political pressure will force the Food and Drug Administration to approve a vaccine before it is fully vetted. Yet Mr. Trump says Mr. Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, are airing doubts that amount to dangerous “anti-vaxxer” rhetoric.
Mr. Trump said the pandemic outlook is improving. The seven-day rolling average of daily cases is at roughly 36,000, down from 66,000 in late July, according to a New York Times tracker. Daily deaths have started to recede after a period of around 1,000 fatalities per day.
“It’s going down very rapidly, really rapidly,” Mr. Trump told White House reporters.
In another sign that the situaton is improving, JP Morgan Chase, the nation’s biggest bank, is ordering its top workers to return to their offices by Sept. 21, Bloomberg News reported Thursday.
The president compared his response favorably to the Obama administration’s response to the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, when Mr. Biden was vice president.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there were nearly 12,500 deaths from that virus over a yearlong period. By contrast, the coronavirus has killed about 190,000 in about six-and-a-half months.
The president defended his approach after excerpts released this week from Mr. Woodward’s forthcoming book — titled “Rage” — showed he purposely played down the threat the coronavirus posed to the country earlier this year.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward on March 19, according to clips of their discussion posted by CNN. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Mr. Trump also discussed how the virus spread through the air instead of by touch.
On Thursday, the president said people “knew it was airborne” in February, so it wasn’t classified information he was sharing with Mr. Woodward.
Otherwise, the president stuck to his usual points about the virus during the press conference. He said his moves to restrict travel from China at the end of January saved lives and that his push for new therapeutics is driving down the death rate.
He also said children must resume in-person learning this fall, citing the minuscule fraction of deaths that occur among children, and said Big Ten college football ought to reverse its postponement plan.
⦁ Victor Morton contributed to this report.
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