As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US reached 3m, and another daily record fell with more than 60,000 new cases, Donald Trump insisted the US was “in a good place” and admitted he “didn’t listen to my experts”.
The president also publicly attacked the US’s most senior non-political member of the White House coronavirus taskforce, Dr Anthony Fauci, who said earlier this week the US was still “knee deep in the first wave” of the pandemic.
More than 130,000 Americans have now died from Covid-19, the highest death toll in the world.
Speaking to former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren for a Gray TV interview to be broadcast on Sunday, Trump said: “I disagree with him. You know, Dr Fauci said ‘don’t wear masks’ and now he says ‘wear them’. And you know, he’s said numerous things: ‘Don’t close off China. Don’t ban China.’
“And I did it anyway. I sort of didn’t listen to my experts and I banned China.”
That was a reference to restrictions on travelers from the country where the virus originated, ordered relatively early in the US outbreak. The World Health Organization and other authorities have questioned the efficacy of such travel bans, particularly as Covid-19 may have spread to the US anyway. Trump this week moved to withdraw the US from the WHO.
Fauci, 79, has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. In the early stages of the pandemic, he emerged as a trusted public voice.
But tensions with Trump were quick to emerge and Fauci has now reportedly been blocked from appearing on major media platforms. He made his “first wave” remark on a National Institutes of Health webcast on Monday, following sobering testimony to the Senate last week.
On Wednesday, the White House taskforce met at the Department of Education in Washington. Fauci told CBS he participated remotely. He was not present for a press briefing.
Most senior Republicans and officials including Vice-President Mike Pence now say masks are advisable. But Trump has refused to wear a mask in public or advocate that Americans do so and there has been no national mandate. In some states governors have refused to mandate masks or even recommend them and in some cases mayors have been banned from doing so. It has also been reported that the White House is seeking to persuade Americans they will just have to live with the risk of infection.
Numerous mostly Republican-led states which began to reopen their economies in late May, Texas and Florida prominent among them, are reporting record case numbers and rapidly growing pressure on hospital capacity. Reopening measures in states which were early hotspots, New York and New Jersey to the fore, have been paused or modified.
Nonetheless, Trump insisted to Van Susteren that in the next two to four weeks, “I think we’re going to be in very good shape.” He has previously erroneously contended that the virus will soon simply disappear and that 99% of cases are harmless.
Seeking to satisfy Trump’s demand for campaign spectacle as he trails Joe Biden in most key polls, the Republican party has moved the main events of its national convention from Charlotte, North Carolina, a state with a Democratic governor who would not relax public health measures, to Jacksonville in Florida, a state with a Republican governor keen to keep his state open.
Covid-19 cases have since soared in Florida and Jacksonville itself has moved to tighten up on social distancing and mask-wearing. Public health experts and political strategists have expressed horror at the prospect of mass events in a city suffering from Covid-19.
Trump told Van Susteren the plan to go to Jacksonville in late August “really depends on the timing. Look, we’re very flexible. We can do a lot of things, but we’re flexible.”