Donald Trump says he downplayed threat of covid-19 to avoid 'panic'

10 September 2020, 08:41 | Updated: 10 September 2020, 11:34

Donald Trump admitted he downplayed the threat of coronavirus
Donald Trump admitted he downplayed the threat of coronavirus. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Donald Trump has admitted he wanted to "play down" the threat of coronavirus in response to claims made in a bombshell new book about his handling of the crisis.

Interview tapes from the book released on Wednesday revealed the president knew early on how deadly the virus was, following a phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and meetings with his national security advisors.

Even as the president was telling Americans that everything was under control in early February, he told journalist Bob Woodward: "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 even your strenuous flu. This is deadly stuff.”

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Despite this, three weeks later, on February 28th, the President told the American people: “It's going to disappear. One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear”.

President Trump told reporters yesterday: "I'm a cheerleader for this country. I love this country. I don't want people to be frightened. I don't want to create panic."

On 19th March the president explained to Mr Woodward: “To be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

With over 6 million recorded coronavirus cases and 189,653 deaths in the country, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden reacted with fury, accusing President Trump of “knowingly and willingly” lying to the American public.

At a campaign event, Mr Biden said: “This is a recession created by Donald Trump’s negligence and he is unfit for this job is the consequence of it.”

“How many families are missing loved ones at their dinner table tonight because of his failures?” he asked.

LBC's Washington Correspondent Simon Marks reports that “the White House has bizarrely been taken completely by surprise by Mr Woodward’s revelations”.

Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany delayed her daily press conference and then “flailed” in response to a question on the comments, Mr Marks observed.

“No one is lying to the American people, one day Covid will go away. I think we can all hope for that day,” the Press Secretary said.

"The president has never lied to the American public on Covid. The president was expressing calm and his actions reflect that”.

The President himself has also rejected claims that he lied to Americans, saying: “We don’t want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem that is a tremendous problem and scare everyone.”

President Trump claimed despite playing down the virus in public, the federal government was still working behind the scenes.

“We immediately started buying, all over the world, we started buying masks and gowns and everything else,” he said.

Mr Woodward’s book also covers race relations, diplomacy with North Korea and a range of other issues that have arisen during the past two years.

More excerpts are expected to be released in the coming days by The Washington Post, where Mr Woodward is an editor.