US President Donald Trump has defended his earlier remarks that he wanted to downplay the coronavirus threat to the American public, arguing that he is a cheerleader for the country and did not want to create panic.
Speaking to Bob Woodward, author and associate editor of The Washington Post, on March 19, Trump had said: “I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Xinhua news agency reported.
The remark was revealed in Woodward’s new book “Rage”, slated to release this month. It is based on 18 interviews that Trump gave Woodward between December 2019 and July 2020, as well as background conversations with officials and other sources.
Facing criticisms following the revelations, Trump insisted he was right to keep his concerns about the pandemic private.
“We don’t want to instil 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,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday, adding: “We had to show calm.”
“The fact is 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. Certainly, I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy,” he added.
Trump said he downplayed the threat of the virus also because he didn’t “want pricing to go up to a level that becomes almost unaffordable”.
The President also dismissed the reports of his earlier remarks as “another political hit job”.
According to the revelations, Trump told Woodward in another interview on February 7, when the US had reported just a few Covid-19 cases, that the virus was more dangerous than the flu.
“This is deadly stuff,” Trump said, adding that the virus was airborne and more deadly “than even your strenuous flus”.
“It goes through air, Bob, that’s always tougher than the touch,” Trump said. “The air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.”
But in public during the same period, Trump said there were at the time many more flu deaths in the US, claiming that the virus would disappear “like a miracle”.
On February 26, he said that coronavirus cases in the country would fall to “close to zero”.
Three days later, he assured the public that “everything is under control”.
Seizing on the book’s revelations, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden slammed Trump in his tour to key swing state Michigan on Wednesday, saying the President “knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed for months”.
“He knew and purposely played it down,” said the former Vice President. “Worse, he lied to the American people.”
“He’s failed our economy and our country,” Biden added.
Woodward’s book reportedly also revealed National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien warned Trump on January 28 that the coronavirus “will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency”.
Trump told Woodward in May that he didn’t remember being told that.
The US continues to be the worst-hit country in the world by the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Thursday, the number of cases increased to 6,359,313, while the death toll stood at 190,796, according to the Johns Hopkins University.