Before COVID-19 claimed the first Americans, Donald Trump was informed that the coronavirus was dangerous and highly contagious but chose to downplay its severity to avoid causing panic.
In an audio excerpt emerging on Thursday morning, the US president can be heard telling journalist Bob Woodward on February 7 that he believed the coronavirus was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus”.
“This is 5 per cent versus 1 per cent and less than 1 per cent. You know? So, this is deadly stuff,” Mr Trump can be heard saying.
He later admitted that he liked “playing it down” so he didn’t worry Americans.
“I don’t want to create a panic,” he told Woodward, whose upcoming book, Rage, reveals the contents of 18 interviews he had with Mr Trump between December and July.
The recordings are further evidence Mr Trump was not telling Americans about the real risk to their health.
Around the same time as the interviews with Woodward, Mr Trump was publicly comparing COVID-19 to the seasonal flu.
The audio recordings of the interviews which were available on CNN‘s website revealed Mr Trump understood the concerns the coronavirus “goes through the air”.
He said, “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.”
In August, Mr Trump tweeted that “the Bob Woodward book will be a FAKE, as always, just as many of the others have been”.
The White House has since gone into damage control – and despite the release of taped evidence, a spokeswoman would not admit any fault on Mr Trump’s part.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Mr Trump “never” downplayed the virus, but has “always been forthright”.
“The president never downplayed the virus, once again,” Ms McEnany said.
“The president expressed calm. The president was serious about this… and he was taking early action.”
The US has been one of the hardest hit countries in the pandemic.
By Thursday morning, it had recorded more than 6.3 million cases – the most of any nation. More than 189,900 Americans have died of the virus.
“This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Mr Trump in January, the book says.
However, several months later, Mr Trump told Mr Woodward he did not recall the warning.
Kayleigh McEnany, the president’s press secretary, told reporters the “president has never lied to the American public on COVID”.
“We have done a very good job,” she said.