Donald Trump tells Americans not to be afraid of coronavirus

Experts outraged as he marks discharge from hospital with tweets likening Covid-19 to flu

Above: Supporters of Mr Trump outside the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in Washington on Monday. As he left the hospital, the President declined to answer questions shouted out by the media.
Above: Supporters of Mr Trump outside the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in Washington on Monday. As he left the hospital, the President declined to answer questions shouted out by the media. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EPA-EFE
US President Donald Trump removing his mask on the White House balcony on Monday evening, alarming those who noted that a widening circle of people around him had tested positive for Covid-19 in recent days.
US President Donald Trump removing his mask on the White House balcony on Monday evening, alarming those who noted that a widening circle of people around him had tested positive for Covid-19 in recent days.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A billboard near Pristina International Airport in Slatina, Kosovo, yesterday.
A billboard near Pristina International Airport in Slatina, Kosovo, yesterday. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EPA-EFE

President Donald Trump sparked fresh controversy as he was discharged from hospital on Monday evening after being treated for Covid-19, telling Americans not to fear the coronavirus that has so far infected over 7.5 million in the country and left more than 200,000 dead.

"Don't be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life," he tweeted from hospital before his release. "We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago."

Upon returning to the White House, Mr Trump removed his mask on the building's balcony as photographs were taken, alarming those who noted that a widening circle of White House staff, top aides and Republican lawmakers had tested positive for Covid-19 in recent days.

As he left the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre outside Washington, the President declined to answer questions shouted out by the media, including how many White House employees were ill and whether he was a super spreader.

Seeking a second term in office, Mr Trump is keen to project an image of business as usual and return to campaigning, with less than a month to the presidential election.

He has been trailing his Democratic rival Joe Biden in the polls with a gap that widened after the presidential debate and his Covid-19 diagnosis last Friday.

"Will be back on the Campaign Trail soon!!! The Fake News only shows the Fake Polls," he tweeted on Monday evening.

In a later tweet yesterday morning, he said: "I am looking forward to the debate on the evening of Thursday, October 15th in Miami. It will be great!" The second presidential debate in Miami had been thrown into uncertainty after Mr Trump fell ill.

The President's physician, Dr Sean Conley, while speaking to the media earlier, neither greenlit Mr Trump's travel plans nor counselled against it.

"As far as travel goes, we'll see," said Dr Conley at a press conference on Monday afternoon.

Mr Trump doubled down on downplaying Covid-19 yesterday morning, likening it to the flu.

He said on Twitter: "Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. 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!!!" This was later hidden and marked as misleading by Twitter.

Scientists, ethicists and doctors were outraged by the President's comments about a disease that has killed nearly 210,000 people in the United States.

Weighing in, Mr Biden said: "Tell that to the 205,000 families who lost somebody."

Pollster Nate Silver, who founded the election modelling website FiveThirtyEight, said on Twitter that Mr Trump's tweet was not likely to be well received.

"Trump's 'it's just the flu!' messaging on Covid is likely to be quite unpopular, but it will be even more so if he's also still demonstrably suffering from personal health problems caused by Covid," Mr Silver wrote on Twitter.

Others also noted that Mr Trump, as President, had access to a level of care that most Americans did not have and likely could not afford.

Dr Natalie Azar, assistant professor of rheumatology at the NYU Langone Medical Centre, wrote on Twitter that the average American who gets Covid-19 would not be medically evacuated to the hospital, nor receive the Regeneron antibody cocktail the President received within 24 hours - if at all.

Mr Trump was provided the experimental drug in response to a "compassionate use" request from his doctors, but it is not readily available to most Americans.

It was developed using blood samples from three patients in Singapore, according to a report by the Asian Scientist magazine.

Wrote Dr Azar: "Nor will they be discharged to their home which has been converted to a mini hospital."

She added: "So to anyone who interprets the President's experience with Covid-19 as the norm, please know that this is not how it plays out for most. Especially for people of colour, especially for people living in rural areas with poor access to specialised care."

Mr Trump's doctors have said that he would return to a White House medical unit staffed around the clock with "top-notch physicians, nurses, physician assistants, logisticians".

They also said that he had "met or exceeded all discharge criteria" and that it had been more than 72 hours since his last fever.

"Though he might not be entirely out of the woods yet, the team and I agree that all our evaluations and, most importantly, his clinical status support the President's safe return home, where he'll be surrounded by world-class medical care," said Dr Conley.

"We're in a bit of uncharted territory when it comes to a patient who received the therapies he has so early in the course," he added.

"So we're looking to this weekend. If we can get through to Monday with him remaining the same or improving, better yet, then we will all take that final deep sigh of relief."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2020, with the headline 'Trump tells Americans not to be afraid of virus'. Print Edition | Subscribe