World

Trump faces backlash for removing mask on return to White House

US President also took off mask after dramatic return to White House

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump faced a fresh backlash yesterday for removing his mask when he returned to the White House and urging Americans not to fear the Covid-19 disease that has killed more than 210,000 people in the country and put him in hospital.

Mr Trump arrived at the White House on Monday in a made-for-television spectacle in which he descended from his Marine One helicopter wearing a white mask only to remove it as he posed, saluting and waving, on the mansion's South Portico.

"Don't let it dominate you. Don't be afraid of it," Mr Trump said in a video after his return from the Walter Reed Medical Centre military hospital, where he was treated for the disease caused by the coronavirus.

"I'm better, and maybe I'm immune - I don't know," he added, flanked by American flags and with the Washington Monument in the background.

"Get out there. Be careful."

Mr Trump, who received experimental treatment, has repeatedly played down a disease that has killed more than a million people worldwide and left his own country with the highest death toll in the world.

The Republican President, running for re-election against Democrat Joe Biden in the Nov 3 polls, was admitted to hospital on Friday after being diagnosed with the disease.

Mr Trump has repeatedly flouted social distancing guidelines meant to curb the virus' spread and ignored his own medical advisers.

He also mocked Mr Biden at last Tuesday's presidential debate for wearing a mask at events, even when he is far from others.

Mr Biden on Monday castigated Mr Trump for saying Americans should not be afraid of Covid-19.

"I saw a tweet he did, they showed me, he said, 'Don't let Covid control your life,'" Mr Biden told Florida news station Local 10 as he campaigned in the key battleground state.

"Tell that to the 205,000 families who lost somebody."

Mr Biden was referring to the number of Americans - now past 210,000 - who have died from coronavirus.

Mr Trump's decision to remove his mask after climbing the staircase to the White House South Portico - a perch that put him at some distance from others - and his insistence that Americans should not fear the disease horrified physicians.

"I was aghast when he said Covid should not be feared," said Dr William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Nashville.

"This is a disease that is killing around a thousand people a day... This is a virus that should be both respected and feared," he added.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, told CNN Mr Trump looked good but noted that patients sometimes have a setback five days after they get sick.

"He looks fine," said Dr Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"Sometimes when you're five days in, you're going to have a reversal... It's unlikely that it will happen, but they need to be heads-up for it." - REUTERS, AFP

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