CORONAVIRUS

Trump knew Covid-19 "deadly" but played it down, interviews reveal

United States President Donald Trump says he "perhaps" misled the American public over the threat of the coronavirus to "reduce panic".

Trump knew Covid-19 "deadly" but played it down, book interviews reveal
Doug Mills / POOL EFE

United States President Donald Trump admitted earlier this year that he knew how deadly and contagious the coronavirus was but did not convey this to the American people because he did not want to create panic, according to interviews for a new book by the legendary journalist Bob Woodward.

The recorded interviews, released by CNN on Wednesday and based on Woodward’s new book titled "Rage", came out just weeks before the 3 November presidential election and as Trump's efforts to battle Covid-19 have come under intense criticism as being too little too late.

The Republican president, who has been hammered by Democratic opponent Joe Biden over the slow US government response to the pandemic, played down the virus for months as it took hold and spread quickly across the country.

"This is deadly stuff", Trump told Woodward in February

"I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Woodward on 19 March, days after he declared a national emergency. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."

In that conversation, Trump also told Woodward that some "startling facts" had just come out about the virus' targets: "It's not just old, older. Young people too, plenty of young people."

According to the interviews, CNN and The Washington Post reported, Trump knew the virus was especially deadly in early February.

"It goes through the air," Trump told Woodward on 7 February. "That's always tougher than 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 even your strenuous flus."

Trump added: "This is deadly stuff."

Trump says he "perhaps" misled public to "reduce panic"

Reacting to the release of the interviews in a news conference on Wednesday, Trump said he had “perhaps” misled the public to avoid panic. “Well, I think if you said in order to reduce panic, perhaps that’s so,” he told reporters.

“The fact is, I’m a cheerleader for this country. I love our country. I don't want people to be frightened. I don't want to create panic […] and certainly I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy."

Trump has betrayed the American public, says Biden

Speaking at a campaign event in Warren, Michigan, Biden accused Trump of a "life and death betrayal" of the US public. "He knew how deadly it was, that it was much more deadly than the flu. He knew, and purposefully played it down," the former vice-president said.

"Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months. 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.”