Coronavirus: Donald Trump says US approaching a ‘horrendous’ time

Mark Magnier

US President Donald Trump said the United States was heading into its “toughest” weeks as the coronavirus death toll mounts, equipment shortages intensify and New York and other hotspots come into their worst period so far.

“We’re really coming up to a time that’s really going to be horrendous, probably [a] time like we haven’t seen in this country,” he said on Saturday at a briefing at the White House.

“We’re getting to that time when the numbers are going to peak, and it’s not going to be a good looking situation. I really believe we probably have never seen anything like these kinds of numbers, maybe during the war.”

The number of people infected in the US has topped 308,000 and the death toll has climbed past 8,400. New York is the pandemic’s US epicentre, with over 113,700 confirmed cases as of Saturday morning. More than 3,500 people statewide have died, and about 15,000 coronavirus patients are hospitalised. Over 4,100 are in intensive care – many, if not all, of them needing ventilators.

At the daily briefing, which lasted nearly two hours, Trump also defended the eight remaining US governors who have not implemented stay-at-home orders for their states, ignoring the advice of public health officials. And he implied that states should be more grateful for all his administration has done.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation on its website Healthdata.org estimates that, by the second week of April, US hospitals will be overwhelmed and that US deaths could reach 81,000 by July.

Trump – flanked by US Vice-President Mike Pence, virus task force coordinator Dr Deborah Birx, and infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci – said his administration hoped to stay ahead of critical medical needs in each state.

But he also suggested that states were asking for more medical supplies than they really needed, echoing ongoing tension he has had with frustrated governors. “The fears of the shortages have led to inflated requests,” Trump said. “We had one state asking for 40,000 ventilators.”

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Trump has come under fire for ignoring for several crucial weeks the threat of the virus, referring to the attention being given to the pandemic at one point as a “hoax” promulgated by political rivals and the news media.

Trump’s news conference strayed into a number of areas only peripherally related to the spread of the coronavirus. He said the likely Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, does not write his own tweets, suggested that the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) was an illegal cartel, said sports stadiums needed to fill up again and that there was no plan to reschedule the Republican presidential convention past August.

He also praised his decision to stop people from coming to the US from China. “I was correct, when I stopped people from China very early, very, very early from coming into our country,” he said. “I was called xenophobic, racist, I was called many things.”

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But a recurring theme at Trump’s briefing was his frustration that the country was not recovering and getting back to normal faster. He revisited a familiar message, saying he wants to get the economy up and running as soon as possible.

“We’re not going to destroy our country. We have to get back,” he said. “We have a big decision to make at some point.”

Trump taking questions during Saturday’s briefing. Photo: AP

“We were having the greatest period in our country’s history from an economic standpoint,” he added. “We cannot let this continue.”

Trump and Birx praised a decision by the US state of Oregon to send ventilators to New York, which is most likely to see some of its highest death tolls from the virus in the next week or two. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has issued increasingly urgent please for ventilators for days and has strongly criticised what he has said is insufficient help from the federal government. New York is also poised to get more than 1,000 ventilators from China.

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Trump also declined to give details on what role the administration had in diverting a shipment of 200,000 masks made by US manufacturing company 3M to Thailand and then the US, instead of to Germany, the original destination. Germany has called the act “piracy”.

“There’s been no act of piracy, it’s the opposite,” Trump said. “3M has not treated our country well. And if they do, great, and if they don’t, they're going to have a hell of a price to pay”.

“They only get their act together because I got involved,” he added.

 

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