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In February 2020, when most of the world’s Covid-19 cases were still outside the United States, White House officials met to decide what to do with Americans who had been infected abroad. Some suggested bringing them back into the country to receive treatment at US hospitals.
Donald Trump, reportedly, had another idea.
“Don’t we have an island that we own?” the former president allegedly asked. “What about Guantanamo?”
According to a new book, Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History, Mr Trump was adamant that the US should not “import a virus.” Instead, he appears to have considered isolating Covid-positive Americans at the same naval base as terrorism suspects.
According to the book, written by Washington Post reporters Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta, White House officials quickly put the kibosh on the Guantanamo proposal – even after Mr Trump suggested it a second time.
The disturbing episode is just one of many described in Nightmare Scenario, which chronicles the federal government’s early, bungled handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The book also reveals new details of the feuding between White House officials, Mr Trump’s own bout of Covid-19 – which was reportedly much more serious than the public knew – and the former president’s furious opposition to Covid testing, which he feared would doom his reelection campaign.
“Testing is killing me!” he reportedly yelled at Alex Azar, who was at that time secretary of Health and Human Services. “I’m going to lose the election because of testing! What idiot had the federal government do testing?”
“Uh, do you mean Jared?” Mr Azar allegedly replied. Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law, had just taken over the national testing strategy.
Mr Trump evidently thought the whole effort was a mistake. In conversations with his aides, he appears to have been more bothered by the Covid statistics themselves – which he called “my numbers” – than on the actual illnesses and deaths they represented.
“This was gross incompetence to let CDC develop a test,” the former president reportedly told Mr Azar.
Meanwhile, members of the coronavirus task force fought with each other for dominance, aides blocked Mr Trump from firing staffers he didn’t like, and efforts to distribute masks and medicines faltered. The overall result, the book says, was a slow and “rudderless” response to the crisis.
The Independent has reached out to Mr Trump’s company for comment, but had not heard back at the time of publication.