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Trump runs de facto campaign ad in virus briefing

Washington, April 14 (IANS) US President Donald Trump and the White House coronavirus taskforce addressed the media briefing over coronavirus pandemic spread in the US.

Starting the briefing on Monday, Trump said the “number of daily new infections remained flat nationwide” in the past few days, the BBC reported.

“Hospitalisations are slowing in hot spots like New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Louisiana,” he added, saying this is due to Americans “following the guidelines”.

“You looked at the charts, the models from early on, predictions were 100,000 [or],120,00 people,” Trump said.

“We’re going to hopefully be way, way below that number,” he says, calling this “clear evidence that our aggressive strategy is working”.

Dr Anthony Fauci, US infectious disease chief, confirmed the president’s remarks that it appears the COVID-19 outbreak is slowing down, “even though we’ve had a really bad week last week”.

“We’re starting to see in some areas the kind of flattening – particularly in a place that was a hotspot like New York,” he said.

Dr Fauci said he did not choose his words carefully when he said in an interview on Sunday that earlier mitigation efforts could have saved American lives.

His answer led to speculation, fuelled by Trump, that he would be fired.

“I had an interview yesterday that I was asked a hypothetical question and hypothetical questions can sometimes get you into difficulty,” Fauci said in the briefing.

He called his answer a “poor choice of words”.

“I just thought it would be nice for me to clarify, because I didn’t have a chance to clarify…The first and only time that I went in and said we should do mitigation strongly, the response [from Trump] was, ‘yes, we’ll do it’,” he added.

When asked if he was forced by Trump to issue this clarification, he said: “Everything I do is voluntary, don’t even imply that.”

The White House coronavirus taskforce dimmed the lights in the press briefing room and showed a de facto campaign video which praised Trump’s handling of the crisis.

The several-minute long video showed clips of news reports in an effort to combat recent reporting by US media that showed Trump delayed responding to the crisis for nearly six weeks.

One New York Times reporter who was quoted in the video had already responded on Twitter to say her quote was taken out of context.

Trump later said the video was produced by White House staff, and not his campaign.

President Trump lambasted what he calls “fake news” coverage of his attempts to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the US.

Trump touted his China travel restrictions, arguing that, actually, he acted fast on the virus.

He pointed out the campaign of Joe Biden, the presumptive presidential candidate for the Democrats, had called him xenophobic after he issued a travel ban on China early in the coronavirus crisis.

Biden’s campaign this month said the former vice-president supports the Trump administration’s decision to impose a China travel ban.

“I’m getting along very well with the governors,” said Trump, adding that Vice-President Mike Pence had a call today with governors which was a “10”.

“He said it was like a 10. He used one of my expressions actually,” said Trump, who previously ranked his coronavirus handling a “10 out of 10”.

Trump and state governors have been disputing who has responsibility for lifting lockdowns, and effectively re-opening the US economy.

But despite Trump claiming the power, constitutional scholars say the the authority to lift state lockdown orders actually rests with the governors who first imposed them.

Trump continued to defend his handling of the pandemic, emphasising: “Everything we did was right.”

He singled out for criticism the New York Times, which at the weekend published an investigation suggesting the president’s response to the crisis was hampered by internal divisions, lack of planning and his faith in his own instincts.

The president again shifted some of the blame on equipment shortages to governors of the nation’s 50 states.

In recent weeks, several state leaders have expressed frustrations with the bidding war between other states and the federal government to obtain supplies in the private market.

“Governors should have had ventilators, they chose not to have them,” Trump said. “We were able to get them. They got the ventilators.”

“The surge is supposed to be coming now and if they do need ventilators we’ve got almost 10,000 that are ready to rock.”

President Donald Trump said that three millions tests for coronavirus have been done in the US.

The US has been ramping up its testing after a slow start when its public health agency developed its own test, which turned out to be defective.

“We’re performing approximately 115,000 tests a day,” said Trump.

Experts around the world say life will not be able to get back to normal until mass testing is available for large percentages of the population.

Trump said his administration will “soon finalise new and very important guidelines to give governors the information they need to start safely opening their states”.

The president last week had announced the formation of a new “opening our country” council.

He said the White House guidance would come “over a short number of days”.

Trump said the plan will “give the American people the confidence they need to begin returning to normal life”.

“Our country is going to be open.”

Trump claimed “numerous provisions” of the US constitution give him the power to force states to re-open for business.

“The president of the United States calls the shots,” he said, telling reporters that a legal brief outlining his argument will be released soon.

“It’s a decision for the president of the United States. That said we’re going to work with the states because it’s very important.”

Trump added that “they can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States”.

Trump’s claim flies the face of state governors, who argue that only they have the authority to lift the lockdowns that they imposed. Federal guidelines issued by Trump are only advisory, not compulsory.

Trump attacked the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) calling the international agencies the “Bobbsey Twins”.

The children’s book series, written by Laura Lee Hope, tells the story of “two sets of twins as they go on wild adventures and solve intriguing mysteries,” according to publisher Penguin Random House.

So, to be clear, there are four people that make up the Bobbsey Twins.

Asked about cutting WHO funding, as he said last week he was considering, he said: “I would say by the end of the week I’m going to make a decision on that.”

–IANS

rt/

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