Donald Trump again struggled to reassure a frightened nation on Thursday, as the United States now has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world.
News that America had passed virus hotspots in China and Italy with 82,404 cases of infection, according to a tracker led by Johns Hopkins University, broke out as the president held a press conference at Home White.
His instinctive response was to question the statistics of other countries. “It’s a tribute to the amount of testing we do,” Trump told reporters. “We are doing huge tests, and I’m sure you can’t tell what China is testing or not testing. I think it’s a bit difficult.”
While the United States has increased its testing capacity in recent days, the process is flawed and inconsistent, and the country is still lagging behind leaders such as South Korea in terms of the number of tests administered by inhabitant.
One gloomy day, the death toll in America surpassed 1,000 and it was revealed that last week, 3.3 million people applied for unemployment – the biggest week-long jump in history. The president was widely condemned for not acting quickly enough, for misjudging public mood, and for trying to blame others rather than taking personal responsibility.
“It’s not anyone’s fault,” said Trump of the unemployed character. “Certainly not in this country. No one’s fault. We were very fortunate when we decided not to allow people from China at a very short date. I say that because some people do not want to accept it, but it was an excellent decision made by our country, or the figures you are talking about – we are a big country – they would be much bigger, far bigger. “
He added, “I’ve heard that it could be six million, seven million. It’s 3.3 or 3.2, but it’s a lot of jobs, but I think we’ll come back very strong. The sooner we get back to work – you know, every day we stay outside, it gets harder to get it back very quickly, and our people don’t want to stay outside … I think you’ll see a rotation very quickly we have a victory over the hidden enemy. “
Trump said at the briefing that dates for the reopening of parts of the country were under discussion, but notably made no reference to Easter – April 12 – as he has been pushing for the past few days.
Critics have long accused him of lacking compassion, pointing to examples such as when, in 2017, he threw paper towels at hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico. On Thursday, he was asked about the thousands of restaurants that would go bankrupt, causing personal devastation to owners and staff.
“I understand the restaurant industry,” he said, calling it “very delicate”. He continued, “You can serve 30 great meals to an individual and a family … a bad meal, 31, and they will never come back. It is a very difficult undertaking. “
He added: “It may not be the same restaurant, it may not be the same property, but they will all be back.”
Even as New York hospitals are overwhelmed, with doctors complaining of nightmarish conditions and spikes in cases in cities like New Orleans, Trump has continued to play down the threat of the virus. “A lot of people have it. I just spoke to two people who had it. They never went to see a doctor, they did not report it … People who die, this percentage is much lower than I thought. “
He added, “The death rate, in my opinion, is going down,” even though experts have warned that it should get worse in the coming weeks.
In a tone that again seemed to contradict the gravity of the situation, Trump asked a Bloomberg News reporter, “How’s Michael doing, well?” – a reference to the failed presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg – and sacked a state governor who participated in a conference call as a “wise guy”.
He also said he would speak with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping later on Thursday, saying they had a “very good relationship”. The president has repeatedly used the term “Chinese virus”, which has angered some in this country.
“No, it comes from China,” he said, but added, “if they are so convinced, we will see.”
Vice President Mike Pence and Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus Task Force Response Coordinator, have also sought to allay fears of a fan shortage, despite media reports to the contrary .
Birx said of New York: “To wake up this morning and watch people talk about the creation of DNR situations, non-resuscitation situations for patients – there is no situation in the United States in this moment that justifies this kind of discussion. “
There was money for Trump on Thursday as stocks rallied on Wall Street for that day after a historic $ 2 billion economic bailout was passed in the Senate. The plan, which is expected to be voted on in the House of Representatives on Friday, would distribute $ 1,200 per adult and $ 500 per child.
Joe Biden, leader of the Democratic presidential race, said: “The president is not responsible for the coronavirus, but he bears full responsibility for the slow and uncoordinated response that has exacerbated both public health and the economic impact on our country. The harsh reality is that at least 3 million people are out of work because our President did not do his job when it was important. “