Donald Trump downplays threat of coronavirus calling risk to US 'very low'

27 February 2020, 00:36 | Updated: 27 February 2020, 00:41

Donald Trump has given a statement on the developing coronavirus epidemic
Donald Trump has given a statement on the developing coronavirus epidemic. Picture: PA

Donald Trump has downplayed the threat of the coronavirus outbreak, calling the risk "very low" and describing it as "like the flu".

Speaking at a press conference abut the developing issue, the US President said: "Because of all we've done the risk to the American people is very low.

"We are ready to adapt and do whatever we have to when the disease spreads, if it spreads."

Mr Trump had banned travel from affected areas early after the reports of the disease spreading across Asian countries were reported.

So far the World Health Organisation has not declared the infections as a pandemic, but said in a statement today "this is no time for complacency" and the globe needs to "remain vigilant".

But Mr Trump described the illness as "like the flu", and said people need to wash their hands regularly and self-isolate if they do fall ill.

When asked by reporters if Americans should consider buying safety equipment, he responded: "I don't think we will be anywhere near that."

He also also added: "This is going to end, hopefully sooner rather than later".

Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director for the US Centres of Disease Control and Prevention, said the US should prepare for more cases of coronavirus
Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director for the US Centres of Disease Control and Prevention, said the US should prepare for more cases of coronavirus. Picture: PA

Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director for the US Centres of Disease Control and Prevention, said the US should prepare for more cases of coronavirus.

She said: "Our aggressive containment strategy here in the United States has been working, and it is responsible for the low levels of cases that we have so far. 

"However, we do expect more cases. And this is a good time to prepare."

She also urged schools and businesses should ensure they have plans in place for a pandemic.

"It's the perfect time for businesses, health care systems, universities, and schools to look at their pandemic preparedness plans, dust them off, and make sure that they're ready," she said.

Trump has said there have been 15 confirmed cases in the US
Trump has said there have been 15 confirmed cases in the US. Picture: PA

Speaking about the possibility of a vaccine against the illness, Mr Trump said: "The vaccine is coming along well and in speaking to the doctors, we think that this is something that we can develop fairly rapidly, a vaccine for the future."

He added that there have been 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the US, which Mr Trump said he called the "Original 15".

Of those cases, eight have returned home to continue their recuperation, five have been cleared of the disease, and one is still in hospital.

He was unclear on their condition, once saying they were in "great shape" and later describing them as "pretty sick".

He also added that the US had repatriated some American citizens from the coronavius-stricken cruise ship the Diamond Princess, which has so far had more than 700 cases on board whilst moored off the coast of Japan.

He added that "we felt we had the obligation" to being them back to their home country, before saying "we could have left them and that would have been very bad."

Mr Trump also said he would be putting Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the efforts to keep the infection under control.

He said: "I'm going to be putting our Vice President Mike Pence in charge, and Mike will be working with the professionals, doctors and everybody else that's working."

Worldwide, 81,385 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus - officially known as Covid-19 - and 2,771 deaths have been recorded.

But the World Health Organisation has yet to class the outbreak as a 'pandemic', with director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying on 24 February: "Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet."

A statement released by the WHO earlier today acknowledged that coronavirus is now spreading faster in areas outside of China - the epicentre of the infections.

It said figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed there were 427 new cases reported in 37 countries on Tuesday, compared with 411 reported by Beijing.

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