Trump explains why he downplayed coronavirus risks: 'The last thing you want to do is create a panic'

President Trump on Wednesday told reporters why he chose to downplay the risks of the coronavirus to the American public.

Video Transcript

- Did you mislead the public?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think if you said in order to reduce panic, perhaps that's so. 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. And certainly I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy.

We want to show confidence. We want to show strength. We want to show strength as a nation, and that's what I've done. And we've done very well. We've done well from any standard. You look at our numbers compared to other countries, other parts of the world, it's been an amazing job that we've done.

I think it's very sad, in many respects, because the incredible individuals working so hard on it, including our vice president, they've done this great job. They haven't been acknowledged by the news media, and they should for the job we've done. Whether it's ventilators, and now you'll see very soon with vaccines, and with therapeutics, the job we've done has been incredible.

But we don't want to instill 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. And I'll tell you the other thing, we immediately started buying-- all over the world we started buying masks, and gowns, and everything else. And we don't want to cause pricing to go up to a level that becomes almost unaffordable. So yeah, in that sense, I agree with it.

Yeah, please.

- How do you reassure the American public going forward that they can trust what you're saying?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think that's really a big part of trust. We have to have leadership. We have to show leadership, and the last thing you want to do is create a panic in the country. This was a horrible thing. It was sent to us by China. Should not have happened. Should never have happened. This is a disgusting, terrible situation that was foisted upon us, and we have to show-- we just don't want to use-- the best word is panic. We don't want to have to show panic. We're not going to show panic.

And that's exactly what I did. And I was very open, whether it's to Woodward or anybody else-- it's just another political hit job-- but whether it was Woodward or anybody else, you can not show a sense of panic or you're going to have bigger problems than you ever had before.

Please.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

- Respectfully, sir. Your comments amounted to more than trying to reduce panic, sir. In February--

DONALD TRUMP: Please. Please.

- --you told Woodward it's more deadly than your strenuous flu.

DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me. He's going. Go ahead, please.

- Look, Mr. President, don't you think if you were more forthright with the American people, more lives could have been saved? Do you take responsibility at all for some of the 200,000 deaths that we've had?

DONALD TRUMP: So I think if we didn't do what we did, we would have had millions of people die. We closed up our country. We closed it up very, very quickly. Very effectively. We did a job. We learned about this horrible disease, along with the rest of the world which had to learn about it. And then we opened it up. And now we know the vulnerable. We know who it attacks. Who it's so vicious against. And I think we've done, from every standpoint, a incredible job.

We shouldn't have lost anybody. Nobody should have lost. China released something that they shouldn't have been allowed to-- they should not have released. It came out of China. It went to Europe. It went all over the world. Should have never happened. They could have stopped it. They stopped it from going into the remainder of China. It started in Wuhan, and they stopped it. But they didn't stop it from coming to our country.

Now, we had to show calm. We had to show-- if it was up to you or whoever, I have no idea what he said in the book. And again, it's a book that I gave him some quotes, and frankly, we'll see how the book turned out. I have no idea. You're asking me questions for the first time.

But again, the last thing we can show is panic, or excitement, or fear, or anything else. We had to take care of the situation we were given. Now, long before anybody else wanted to do it, I closed our borders to a very heavily-infected China. If I didn't do that, we would have had hundreds of thousands more people die. Dr. Fauci said it. Many people said it. It was a great decision. It was a decision I made, and I had to make.

It was a decision that a lot of people thought I was wrong. Nancy Pelosi said I was wrong. Joe Biden said I was wrong. They all came back and they said it was the right decision. And I was way early. That was in January, the end of January I did that. So that was a very good thing we did. Otherwise we would have had hundreds of thousands more. But if we didn't close the country, we would have been talking about millions of people instead of the numbers that we have right now.

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