Trump deliberately played down virus, Woodward book says

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US President Donald Trump knew Covid-19 was deadlier than the flu before it hit the country but wanted to play down the crisis, according to a new book.

Bob Woodward, the journalist who broke the Watergate scandal, interviewed Mr Trump 18 times from December to July.

Mr Trump is quoted as telling him the virus was “deadly stuff” before the first US death was confirmed.

Responding to the book, the president said he had wanted to avoid causing public panic over the outbreak.

Some 190,000 Americans have been recorded as dying with Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, some US media released parts of the interviews between the president and the journalist, revealing his reported remarks on the outbreak as well as race and other issues.

Here are some of the key quotes so far from Rage, which will be released on 15 September.

What does the book say about Mr Trump and the virus?

Mr Trump indicated that he knew more about the severity of the illness than he had said publicly.

According to a tape of the call, Mr Trump told Woodward in February that the coronavirus was deadlier than the flu.

“It goes through the air,” Mr Trump told the author on 7 February.

“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.” 

Later that month, Mr Trump promised the virus was “very much under control”, and that the case count would soon be close to zero. He also publicly implied the flu was more dangerous than Covid-19.

Speaking on Capitol Hill on 10 March, Mr Trump said: “Just stay calm. It will go away.”

Nine days later, days after the White House declared the pandemic a national emergency, the president told Woodward: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

How did the White House react?

Speaking from the White House on Wednesday, Mr Trump told reporters: “I don’t want people to be frightened, I don’t want to create panic, as you say, and certainly I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy.

“We want to show confidence, we want to show strength.”

The president – who is running for re-election in November – said the Woodward book was “a political hit job”.

Responding to reporters’ questions on the book, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said: “The president never downplayed the virus, once again. The president expressed calm. The president was serious about this.”

In a tweet, Mr Trump’s Democratic White House challenger Joe Biden said that “while a deadly disease ripped through our nation, [the president]failed to do his job – on purpose. It was a life or death betrayal of the American people.”

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