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AFP
September 10, 2020

Trump admitted playing down coronavirus danger

World

AFP
September 10, 2020

Washington: President Donald Trump admitted that he tried to minimise the lethal threat of the coronavirus early on in the pandemic, according to excerpts reported Wednesday from a new book by veteran US journalist Bob Woodward.

"I wanted to always play it down," Trump said in an interview with Woodward on March 19, according to a CNN preview of the book "Rage," due to be published September 15.

"I still like playing it down, because I don´t want to create a panic," he said in the conversation with Woodward, which was recorded.

By contrast, in earlier interviews with Woodward, he made clear he understood that the virus was "deadly stuff" and far more dangerous than the ordinary flu. In public, however, Trump had been repeatedly telling Americans that the virus should not be considered much of a danger and would "disappear" by itself.

It took until July before Trump wore a face mask in public. Early on, he also frequently praised the Chinese government´s response, only later pivoting to blame Beijing for the global health crisis.

The US death toll from Covid-19 is expected soon to pass 200,000. The president has repeatedly insisted that he has managed the pandemic successfully, pointing to his early decisions to ban travel from China, where the virus first appeared, and from hotspots in Europe.

However, opinion polls show some two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Trump´s actions. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that Trump´s only motivation in downplaying the dangers had been to reassure the public. "It´s important to express confidence, it´s important to express calm," she said. "The president has never lied to the American public on Covid."

In a related development, Czechs will have to wear face masks in most public indoor settings in a bid to slow a record spike in Covid-19 cases, the health minister said Wednesday. The restriction comes on the heels of a never-before-seen daily increase of 1,164 new confirmed Covid-19 cases reported Tuesday in the EU member nation of 10.7 million people.

"We have agreed with experts to introduce the duty to wear face masks inside buildings across the Czech Republic as of Thursday," Minister Adam Vojtech said in a tweet. The measure affects restaurants, shops, schools -- except classrooms -- and workplaces unless employees remain two metres (six and a half feet) apart, although there are some exemptions like kindergarten-aged children and people eating or drinking.

Czechs have already had to wear face masks on public transport, in hospitals and public institutions and at railway stations and the Prague airport since the beginning of the month. The World Health Organisation called on governments in June to "encourage the general public to wear masks in specific situations and settings."

The Czech Republic had already introduced a blanket face mask requirement in March, soon after the pandemic struck Europe, and managed to keep virus figures lower than most of the continent.

But in May, the centre-left government eased most of the restrictions, and the number of new cases started to rise again. Last week, the country’s chief public health officer announced she had tested positive for Covid-19.

The Czech Republic has registered almost 30,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 441 deaths.Meanwhile, the European Commission announced on Wednesday it has reached a deal with a sixth pharmaceutical firm, this time BioNTech-Pfizer, to reserve a further 200 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine.

"Our chances to develop and deploy a safe and effective vaccine have never been higher, both for Europeans here at home, or for the rest of the world," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said. "To defeat coronavirus anywhere, we need to defeat it everywhere."

Brussels has previously signed deals with Sanofi-GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Curevac, Moderna and with AstraZeneca to be ready to procure doses quickly if and when any of the companies develop a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.

"We are optimistic that among these candidates there will be a safe and effective vaccine against Covid-19 to help us defeat this pandemic," the EU health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, said.

In a statement, BioNTech said the agreement includes an option for another 100 million doses. Deliveries could start as soon as the end of 2020, if the labs successfully clear the various tests phases.