US President Donald Trump is facing a fierce backlash after saying the country’s COVID-19 death toll “is what it is” in a viral interview with Australian journalist Jonathan Swan.
When pressed by Swan, the son of the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan, on death toll numbers, Mr Trump strongly argued against measuring coronavirus deaths as a percentage of the population.
“The United States is lowest in numerous categories, we’re lower than the world, we’re lower than Europe,” Mr Trump said in the interview on Axios, broadcast on HBO.
He described the pandemic as “under control”. That prompted Swan to question how could that be, given the US was reporting more than 1000 deaths per day.
“They are dying. That’s true. And you … it is what it is,” Mr Trump said.
“But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it.”
Video of the exchange has gone viral on social media, prompting further scrutiny and analysis of Mr Trump’s coronavirus response.
He is said to have made at least 19 false claims during the interview which some pundits have called “the most embarrassing interview of Trump’s entire term”.
The HBO's interview between President Trump and Jonathan Swan is meme material pic.twitter.com/HEfGA45KTX
— Xema Fominaya (@WofWendetta) August 4, 2020
The exchange speaks to Mr Trump’s ongoing efforts to downplay the severity of the pandemic in the US, even as his own health experts are increasingly warning of a dire contagion.
Mr Trump contended in the interview that the US actually had the “lowest” numbers in the world in several categories, even as it has registered about 150,000 deaths, more than any other nation by far.
Swan repeatedly tried to bring the conversation back to “death as a proportion of population”, which he said showed the US faced serious problems.
“You can’t do that,” Mr Trump pushed back, pulling out sheets of coloured bar graphs.
The President preferred to focus on deaths relative to caseloads, which helps sidestep the issue that the US has a massive number of infections.
“You are not reporting it correctly,” Mr Trump insisted, as he pushed his theory that the US conducts many tests, thereby leading to a larger caseload. His own experts have also contradicted him on this.
Raw death figures in the US dropped earlier in the summer, but they have since shot back up. In recent weeks there was a sustained period where each day brought more than 1000 new coronavirus fatalities.
As of Wednesday morning (Australian time), the virus death toll in the US was more than 156,000.