Donald Trump again fought to reassure a fearful nation on Thursday, as it emerged that the United States now has the largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world.
News that the United States had overtaken virus hotspots in China and Italy with 82,404 cases of infection, according to a tracker conducted by Johns Hopkins University, broke when the president was holding a press conference at the White House.
His instinctive response was to question the statistics of other countries. "It is a tribute to the amount of testing we are doing," Trump told reporters. "We are doing a tremendous test and I am sure that you cannot say what China is testing or not. I think it is a little difficult."
Although the United States has increased its testing capacity in recent days, the process has been flawed and inconsistent, and the country still lags leaders such as South Korea in terms of the number of tests administered per capita.
On a dark day, the death toll in America exceeded 1,000 and it was revealed that last week 3.3 million people applied for unemployment – the biggest jump of a week in history. The president was widely condemned for not acting quickly enough, misjudging the public's mood and trying to blame others instead of taking personal responsibility.
"It's nobody's fault," Trump said of the unemployment figure. “Certainly not in this country. Nobody blames it. We were very lucky when we decided not to allow people from China to enter too soon. I say this because some people do not want to accept it, but that was a great decision made by our country, or by the numbers you are talking about – we are a big country – they would be much bigger, far bigger. "
He added: “I heard it could be six million, it could be seven million. There are 3.3 or 3.2, but there are many jobs, but I think we will be back very strong. The sooner we get back to work – every day we stay out, it becomes more difficult to get it back quickly, and our people don't want to stay out … I think you will see a very quick change once we have a victory over the enemy hidden. "
Trump told the briefing that dates for the reopening of sections of the country were under discussion, but he did not refer to Easter – April 12 – as he has been pressing for the past few days.
Critics have long accused him of lack of compassion, pointing to examples such as when, in 2017, he threw paper towels at hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico. On Thursday, he was asked about the thousands of restaurants that closed their deals, causing personal devastation to owners and employees.
"I understand the restaurant business," he said, describing it as "very delicate". He continued: “You can serve 30 great meals for one person and a family … a bad meal, 31, and they never come back. It is a very difficult business. "
He added: "It may not be the same restaurant, it may not be the same property, but everyone will be back."
Even when hospitals in New York become overwhelmed, with doctors complaining of nightmare conditions and rising cases in cities like New Orleans, Trump has continued to minimize the threat of the virus. “Many people do. I just spoke to two people. They never went to a doctor, they didn’t report it … People who actually die, this percentage is much lower than I really thought. "
He added: "The death rate, in my opinion, is very low", although experts have warned that this is likely to get worse in the coming weeks.
In a tone that again seemed to be at odds with the seriousness of the situation, Trump asked a Bloomberg News reporter, "How's Michael doing, good?" – a reference to the failed presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg – and fired a state governor who attended a conference call as a "wise man".
He also said he will speak by phone to his Chinese colleague Xi Jinping later on Thursday, saying they have a "very good relationship". The president repeatedly used the phrase "Chinese virus", infuriating some in that country.
"No, it came from China," he said, but added, "if they feel so strongly about it, we'll see."
Vice President Mike Pence and Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, also sought to allay fears about a lack of fans, despite media reports to the contrary.
Birx said of New York: "To wake up this morning and look at people talking about creating DNR situations, non-resuscitating situations for patients – there is no situation in the United States right now that justifies this type of discussion."
There were some silver snippets for Trump on Thursday, with stocks rising on Wall Street that day, after a historic $ 2 billion economic bailout package made its way into the Senate. The plan, due to be voted on in the House of Representatives on Friday, will distribute $ 1,200 per adult and $ 500 per child.
Joe Biden, the leader of the Democratic presidential race, said: “The president is not responsible for the coronavirus, but he is fully responsible for the slow and uncoordinated response that has exacerbated public health and the economic impact in our country. The harsh reality is that at least 3 million people now have no jobs because our president did not do the job when it mattered. "