Americas

Tracking Trump's claims on the threat from coronavirus

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – US President Donald Trump has made a series of rosy – and sometimes false – claims about the coronavirus, including the risks to Americans and how his administration is responding.

Here is a timeline of some of his comments, placed in context and fact-checked.

JAN 24: CHINA HAS HAD HUNDREDS OF CASES AND DOZENS OF DEATHS. THE FIRST CASE WAS ANNOUNCED IN THE UNITED STATES THREE DAYS BEFORE.

Trump tweeted: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”

While the Chinese response to the coronavirus was more transparent than during the Sars outbreak nearly two decades earlier, it was not a model of open communication.

The government continued to censor criticism and suppress information. A Chinese doctor who tried to warn his medical school classmates about the virus in December was detained by authorities for questioning. He was infected with the virus and died two weeks after Trump’s tweet.

JAN 29: CASES HAVE BEEN REPORTED IN 17 COUNTRIES. IN CHINA, THE OUTBREAK HAS SURPASSED THAT OF SARS IN 2003. FIVE CASES ARE CONFIRMED IN THE US.

Trump tweeted: “Just received a briefing on the Coronavirus in China from all of our GREAT agencies, who are also working closely with China. We will continue to monitor the ongoing developments. We have the best experts anywhere in the world, and they are on top of it 24/7!”

FEB 2: THE DEATH TOLL HAS TOPPED 300, INCLUDING THE FIRST FATALITY OUTSIDE CHINA. THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION AND US HAVE DECLARED A PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY.

Trump spoke with Fox News personality Sean Hannity: “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China,” Trump said of the coronavirus.

“But we can’t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus. So, we’re going to see what happens, but we did shut it down, yes.”

FEB 14: THE DEATH TOLL IS WELL OVER 1,000. US CASES HAVE REACHED 14. FLAWED TESTING KITS WERE SENT TO STATE LABS BY THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION.

Trump addressed the National Border Patrol Council: “And 61% of the voters approve of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. And, you know, we did a very early move on that. We did a – I was criticized by a lot of people at the beginning because we were the first. We’d never done it before.”

He also offered an optimistic prediction: “There’s a theory that, in April, when it gets warm – historically, that has been able to kill the virus. So we don’t know yet; we’re not sure yet.”

Warmer weather does not “kill” the seasonal flu, but slows its transmission. It’s unclear if this will hold true for coronavirus infections, which have similar symptoms to the flu but are caused by a different virus.

Dr Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, also contradicted Trump’s theory a day earlier, telling CNN that “this virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year.”

FEB 24: THE S&P 500 FALLS 3.4%, THE WORST SINGLE DAY IN TWO YEARS. THE DEATH TOLL HAS SURPASSED 2,600. US CASES HAVE REACHED 53.

Trump tweeted: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

FEB 25: THE STOCK MARKET CONTINUES TO SLUMP AS THE CDC WARNS TO EXPECT A SPREAD OF CORONAVIRUS IN THE US.

Trump, visiting India, tweeted: “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer is complaining, for publicity purposes only, that I should be asking for more money than $2.5 Billion to prepare for Coronavirus. If I asked for more he would say it is too much. He didn’t like my early travel closings. I was right. He is incompetent!”

In two other posts, he also said: “CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus, including the very early closing of our borders to certain areas of the world. It was opposed by the Dems, ‘too soon’, but turned out to be the correct decision. No matter how well we do, however, the Democrats talking point is that we are doing badly. If the virus disappeared tomorrow, they would say we did a really poor, and even incompetent, job. Not fair, but it is what it is. So far, by the way, we have not had one death. Let’s keep it that way!”

At a news conference, Trump was asked about his previous criticisms of the Obama administration’s handling of Ebola in 2014. He responded: “At that time, nobody had ever even heard of Ebola or ever conceived of something where you basically – the people would disintegrate. And we’re still working on Ebola.”

He went on saying, “The level of death with Ebola – you know, at the time, it was a virtual 100%.”

This was exaggerated. Ebola got its name from a 1976 outbreak. The average fatality rate is around 50%, but has ranged from 27% in Sierra Leone during the 2014 to 2016 outbreak to 88% in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976. Ebola is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, while the coronavirus can be transmitted more easily, through close contact or droplets from sneezes and coughs.

FEB 26: CASES ARE CONFIRMED IN MORE THAN 30 COUNTRIES. VICE-PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE IS GIVEN THE JOB OF LEADING THE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE IN THE US.

At a news conference at the White House, Trump addressed Democratic criticism of his response: “We should all be working together,” he said.

He added: “All they’re trying to do is get a political advantage. This isn’t about political advantage. We’re all trying to do the right thing. They shouldn’t be saying: ‘This is terrible. President Trump isn’t asking for enough money.’ How stupid a thing to say. If they want to give us more money, that’s OK.”

The president responded to whether US schools should prepare for the virus: “I think every aspect of our society should be prepared. I don’t think it’s going to come to that, especially with the fact that we’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up. But, yeah, I think schools should be preparing and, you know, get ready just in case.”

He added: “We have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job.”

His claim about cases “going very substantially down” was false and contradicted what the secretary of health and human services and a top official from the CDC had said moments earlier in the same news conference: that they expected “more cases.”

FEB 27: THE DEATH TOLL HAS REACHED 2,800, WITH MORE THAN 82,000 CASES WORLDWIDE. A DAY EARLIER, THE CDC CONFIRMED THE FIRST CASE IN THE US FROM AN UNKNOWN SOURCE.

Trump tweeted: “Congratulations and thank you to our great Vice President & all of the many professionals doing such a fine job at CDC & all other agencies on the Coronavirus situation. Only a very small number in U.S., & China numbers look to be going down. All countries working well together!”

FEB 28: THE WORST WEEK FOR GLOBAL MARKETS SINCE THE 2008 FINANCIAL CRISIS CONCLUDES. SIXTY CASES HAVE BEEN CONFIRMED IN THE US.

Trump tweeted: “So, the Coronavirus, which started in China and spread to various countries throughout the world, but very slowly in the U.S. because President Trump closed our border, and ended flights, VERY EARLY, is now being blamed, by the Do Nothing Democrats, to be the fault of ‘Trump’.”

He also tweeted: “The Do Nothing Democrats were busy wasting time on the Immigration Hoax, & anything else they could do to make the Republican Party look bad, while I was busy calling early BORDER & FLIGHT closings, putting us way ahead in our battle with Coronavirus. Dems called it VERY wrong!”

MARCH 2: SIX CORONAVIRUS DEATHS HAVE BEEN REPORTED IN THE US, ALL NEAR SEATTLE. GLOBAL CASES TOP 90,000.

At a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, he said: “We had a great meeting today with a lot of the great companies, and they’re going to have vaccines, I think, relatively soon. And they’re going to have something that makes you better, and that’s going to actually take place we think even sooner.”

This was misleading. According to Trump’s own health care experts and pharmaceutical executives, whom he had met with hours earlier, a vaccine may be available for widespread use in about a year to 18 months.

He also made this reassurance: “The United States is right now ranked by far No. 1 in the world for preparedness.”

This was exaggerated. The United States did rank No. 1 out of 195 countries in the Global Health Security Index overall and first in four of six criteria. But the index also warned that “no country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics.” And it noted a specific weakness of the United States as well: lack of universal access to health care and high out-of-pocket costs.

The president also compared the coronavirus to the flu: “From 27,000 to 70,000 people get infected, and many people die. Think of it, 27,000. You lose 27,000 people to the common flu.”

This is misleading. The figures are largely accurate but obscure some notable differences. The coronavirus seems more deadly than most strains of the flu, and while there are widely available treatments and vaccines for the flu, none are ready yet for the coronavirus.

MARCH 3: THE FEDERAL RESERVE CUTS INTEREST RATES BY HALF A POINT. THE STOCK MARKET CONTINUES TO SLUMP.

Trump said to reporters: “There’s only one hot spot, and that’s also pretty much in a very – in a home, as you know, in a nursing home.”

This is understated. The definition of a disease “hot spot” is imprecise, but there had been more clusters of coronavirus in the United States than Trump suggested. The relative paucity of tests may also have obscured the number of cases and their locations.

A week earlier, the CDC also reported “community spread of the virus” in two places in California and in Oregon, in addition to the long-term care facility in suburban Seattle cited by Trump. And New York announced a second case hours after Trump spoke.

MARCH 4: A CLUSTER OF CASES IS REPORTED IN NEW YORK. A 10TH PATIENT DIES IN WASHINGTON STATE. THE HOUSE PASSES AN EMERGENCY AID PACKAGE OF US$8.3 BILLION.

In a White House meeting: “The Obama administration made a decision on testing and that turned out to be very detrimental to what we’re doing, and we undid that decision a few days ago.”

This was misleading. Trump was likely referring to “draft guidance” issued in 2014 that extended the Food and Drug Administration’s authority to regulate laboratory-developed tests, but that was never finalised or enforceable.

A law enacted in 2004 created the process and requirements for receiving authorization to use unapproved testing products in health emergencies. The agency had announced four days earlier that it would permit unapproved tests for 15 days while developers are preparing their emergency authorization request, but it did not “undo” any regulations or laws.

Later, in an interview with Hannity, the president cast doubt on the rate of death reported by the World Health Organisation: “Well, I think the 3.4% is really a false number. Now, this is just my hunch, and – but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this, because a lot of people will have this, and it’s very mild. … So, if we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work – some of them go to work, but they get better.”

The 3.4% refers to the rate of deaths among reported cases of coronavirus, so Trump has a point that it may not include milder cases. Dr Bruce Aylward, who is leading the World Health Organization’s coronavirus efforts, estimated an ultimate rate of 1% to 2%.

MARCH 5: STOCKS CONTINUE TO SLIDE. THE FIRST US CORONAVIRUS DEATH OUTSIDE WASHINGTON STATE IS REPORTED IN CALIFORNIA. CASES SURPASS 200 IN THE US AND 97,800 WORLDWIDE.

Trump angrily rebutted criticism over his comments to Hannity on Twitter: “I NEVER said people that are feeling sick should go to work. This is just more Fake News and disinformation put out by the Democrats, in particular MSDNC. Comcast covers the CoronaVirus situation horribly, only looking to do harm to the incredible & successful effort being made!”

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