World

Trump hid truth about virus to prevent panic, according to new book

US president knew it was a serious threat as far back as February, says new book

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump acknowledged to a journalist early in the coronavirus pandemic that he played down the danger of the health crisis despite having evidence to the contrary, according to a new book.

"I wanted to always play it down," Mr Trump told author Bob Woodward on March 19, days after he declared a national emergency.

"I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."

CNN on Wednesday broadcast interviews Mr Woodward did with Mr Trump for his new book, Rage.

The book is to go on sale on Tuesday, just weeks before the Nov 3 presidential election.

The Republican president, assailed by his Democratic rival Joe Biden over the slow US government response to the coronavirus, played down the crisis for months as it took hold and spread across the country.

In the March 19 conversation, Mr Trump told Mr Woodward that some "startling facts" had emerged showing the extent of those at risk: "It's not just old, older. Young people too, plenty of young people."

Mr Trump on Wednesday defended his handling of the virus, which has killed more than 190,000 people in the US.

"The fact is I'm a cheerleader for this country. I love our country and I don't want people to be frightened," Mr Trump said at the White House. "We've done well from any standard."

According to the interviews, CNN and The Washington Post reported, Mr Trump knew the virus was dangerous in early February.

"It goes through the air," Mr Trump said in a recording of a Feb 7 interview with Mr Woodward. "That's always tougher than the touch. You don't have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that's how it's passed.

"And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than even your strenuous flus."

A week after that interview, Mr Trump said at a White House briefing that the number of US coronavirus cases "within a couple days is going to be down close to zero".

In Michigan where he was campaigning, Mr Biden called out Mr Trump's actions.

"He knew how deadly it was. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months. It was a life and death betrayal of the American people," Mr Biden said.

Other revelations include Mr Trump's disparaging remarks about US military leaders.

Mr Woodward's book reveals that an aide to former Defence Secretary Jim Mattis heard Mr Trump say in a meeting, "my f****** generals are a bunch of p******" because they cared more about alliances than trade deals. Mr Mattis then asked the aide to document the comment in an e-mail, the Washington Post reported.

Regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, Mr Woodward asked Mr Trump his views on the concept of white privilege and whether he felt isolated by that privilege from the plight of Black Americans.

"No. You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you? Just listen to you," Mr Trump replied, according to media reports on the book. "Wow. No, I don't feel that at all." - REUTERS, AFP

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