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President Trump on Wednesday acknowledged that he misled the American public about the threat of COVID-19 earlier this year in order to “reduce panic” about a virus that has so far killed nearly 200,000 people in the U.S.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump was asked whether he misled the country by publicly downplaying the threat of the virus.
“Well, I think if you said ‘in order to reduce panic,’ perhaps that’s so,” Trump said. “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, 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.”
According to audio excerpts from interviews that Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward conducted for his forthcoming book, “Rage,” Trump said in February that he knew COVID-19 was more deadly than the flu but wanted to “play it down” because “I don’t want to create a panic.”
With Trump’s own answers to Woodward’s questions captured on tape, the president did not attempt to deny that he downplayed the risks to the American people from the virus.
“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 added.
Asked how he can reassure Americans that they can trust what he is saying, Trump replied, “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.”
According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 6.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States, more by far than in any other country. Approximately 189,000 Americans have died from the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China.
Trump dismissed the suggestion that he could have saved American lives if he had been more forthright about the risks posed by the virus.
“I think if we didn’t do what we did, we would have had millions of people die,” the president said. “We closed up our country. We closed it up very, very quickly, very effectively. We, uh, 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[n] incredible job.”
Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, quickly responded to Trump's remarks.
“I promise you that if I’m elected, I’ll always tell you the truth,” Biden tweeted. “I’ll listen to the experts and do everything I can to contain this virus. And I’ll always put your health and safety first — no matter the political cost.”
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