Millions will die, Trump administration was warned in coronavirus memos sent in January and February

salarshani@businessinsider.com (Sarah Al-Arshani)
Peter Navarro.

Andrew Harnik/AP Images

  • The Trump administration received at least two memos — one in January and another in February — from his top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, forecasting various possibilities for the human and economic costs of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • The second memo, addressed directly to President Donald Trump on February 23, said as many as 2 million people could die.
  • Some senior officials apparently thought Navarro was being an alarmist.
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President Donald Trump's top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, sent a memo to the National Security Council in January that predicted hundreds of thousands could die from the novel coronavirus with a loss of trillions of dollars for the economy, The New York Times reported on Monday.

Navarro sent at least one other memo, in February, with both warning of a grave impact if the coronavirus outbreak were not contained in the US.

Both memos were published Monday by Axios. In the first memo, sent January 29, Navarro wrote that as many as 543,000 Americans could die, costing the country $5.7 trillion. The memo described the possibility of both a "seasonal flu-like" outcome and a "pandemic flu" outcome but suggested the pandemic was likely given Americans' lack of immunity against the new virus.

"The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on US soil," the January memo said. "This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans."

One senior administration official who spoke with Axios described being wary of Navarro's intentions given his hawkish stance on China. The January memo advocated a travel ban on China, which the Trump administration later implemented.

"The January travel memo struck me as an alarmist attempt to bring attention to Peter's anti-China agenda while presenting an artificially limited range of policy options," the unnamed official told Axios.

Almost a month later, Navarro sent another memo, this time addressed to Trump directly, warning that as many as 2 million people in the US could die from the virus.

Axios said both memos were circulated around the White House and multiple agencies by the NSC.

In his first memo, Navarro cited an estimate by the White House Council of Economic Advisers that banning travel from China would cost $2.9 billion a month, or $34.6 billion if implemented for a year, which he recommended.

According to The Times, White House aides at the time thought a yearlong travel ban on China would be "unsustainable."

The Times described Navarro and Matthew Pottinger, the chief deputy at the National Security Council, as being among only a few officials at the time who were arguing for a more stringent approach to containing the coronavirus. 

In his second memo, which Axios said was not signed by Navarro, he requested $3 billion for immediate aid to "support efforts at prevention, treatment, inoculation, and diagnostics."

This time he warned that as much as a third of the country could be infected, with 1 million to 2 million deaths.

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