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Trump does U-turn, says pandemic getting worse and urges mask wearing

This article is more than 12 months old

As infection numbers rise, he urges Americans to wear masks and warns of situation getting worse

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump, in a shift in rhetoric and tone, encouraged Americans to wear masks if they cannot maintain social distance and warned that the pandemic would get worse before it got better.

In his first press briefing in months focused on the outbreak, Mr Trump urged young people to avoid going to crowded bars and maintained that the virus would disappear at some point.

His remarks were a change in strategy from his robust emphasis on reopening the US economy after its long, virus-induced shutdown and represented his first recent acknowledgement of how bad the problem has become.

"It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better - something I don't like saying about things, but that's the way it is," Mr Trump told reporters.

The authorities reported on Tuesday the highest daily nationwide death toll in weeks of nearly 1,000.

Nearly 142,000 people have died, the most of any country.

Mr Trump, who downplayed the virus in its early stages and once referred to mask-wearing as politically correct, wore one for the first time in public during a recent visit to a military hospital.

As cases skyrocket across the country, including in politically important states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona, Mr Trump, who is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in opinion polls ahead of the Nov 3 election, showcased a new position on the importance of covering mouths and noses.

"We're asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask, get a mask.

"Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact. They'll have an effect. And we need everything we can get," he said.

Mr Trump said he was getting used to masks and would wear one himself in groups or when on an elevator.

"I will use it, gladly," he said.

"Anything that potentially can help... is a good thing."

Following Mr Trump's initial lead, some Republican governors have also resisted rules requiring that their populations wear masks.

Mr Trump said: "We're… asking Americans to use masks, socially distance and employ vigorous hygiene - wash your hands every chance you get while sheltering high-risk populations. We are imploring young Americans to avoid packed bars and other crowded indoor gatherings. Be safe, and be smart."

OPTIMISM

He sought to leave some optimism about treatments even as he acknowledged the grim numbers at present.

"I think you're going to see something over the next fairly short period of time - maybe very short period of time - having to do with therapeutics and vaccines that are very good," he said.

Mr Trump conducted the briefing on his own, without doctors or other members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The strategy shifts come amid tension within his senior staff about the best way to discuss the virus with the American public and frustration among doctors on the task force that their advice is not being heeded. - REUTERS

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