Donald Trump sought to reinforce his message that coronavirus presented only a minimal health risk to the general public, using his first morning back in the White House after a three-day hospital stay to compare the pandemic to annual flu.
The US president’s claim, made on Tuesday morning on Twitter, comes just 12 hours after he ostentatiously removed his face mask for an extended period after returning to the White House on Monday night. Shortly after, he released a video in which he urged Americans to “not let [the virus] dominate you” and “don’t be afraid of it”.
“Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu,” Mr Trump wrote on Tuesday morning. “Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!”
His minimisation of the disease, and his decision to take off his mask despite still suffering from the virus, prompted criticism from political rivals and some public health experts. Asked about the president’s messaging, Anthony Fauci, the US’s leading infectious disease expert, warned against underestimating the virus.
“Obviously, the message should be that we should try as best as we can to avoid infection,” Dr Fauci said at a panel discussion on Monday. “No matter who you are, how old you are, or what your underlying condition is, we should not trivialise it.”
Mr Trump’s insistence that Covid-19 is more manageable than the flu puts him at odds with most scientists and thrusts his handling of the pandemic back into the centre of the 2020 presidential campaign with less than a month until election day. It also comes amid an outbreak in the White House, where several aides have tested positive for coronavirus over the last 48 hours.
Joe Biden, his Democratic rival, appeared to relish the opportunity to engage Mr Trump on his management of the pandemic, which most Americans believe the president has mishandled. During a town-hall meeting on Monday evening, Mr Biden attempted to link the president’s coronavirus diagnosis with his overall approach to the pandemic.
“Look, anybody who contracts the virus by essentially saying masks don’t matter, social distancing doesn’t matter, I think is responsible for what happens to them,” Mr Biden said at the event, broadcast nationally by NBC News.
Mr Biden’s campaign also released a video, published on the former vice-president’s Twitter feed, showing the Democratic candidate putting a mask on next to a video of Mr Trump taking his mask off as he arrived at the White House on Monday evening.
A new poll for CNN, published on Tuesday, showed that 59 per cent of Americans trust Mr Biden to manage the pandemic over Mr Trump; only 38 per cent trusted the president over his Democratic rival.