Trump admits pandemic will 'get worse' at first Covid-19 briefing in months

President urges people to wear face masks as he relaunches press conferences amid flagging poll numbers

Donald Trump has admitted that the coronavirus pandemic is likely to “get worse before it gets better” at his first press briefing devoted to the issue since April.

Facing dire poll numbers, surging cases and sharp criticism for lack of leadership, the US president returned to the White House podium attempting to show more discipline in both style and substance.

In several notable reversals, he urged people to wear face masks, promised his administration was working on a “strategy” and wrapped up in less than half an hour, avoiding his digressions in past briefings that culminated in a proposal to inject disinfectant in Covid-19 patients.

The pandemic will “probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better”, Trump said, reading from scripted remarks. “Something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is.”

It was a marked shift from his claims last month the virus is “fading away” and “dying out”. And having once dismissed its remnants as “embers”, he now conceded that it is raging in states led by Republican governors.

“We have embers and fires and we have big fires and unfortunately now, Florida is a little tough or in a big tough position,” he said. “You have a great governor there, great governor in Texas.”

Trump has been widely condemned for failing to lead with a national strategy and instead shifting responsibility to state governors. Among the problems is a lack of infrastructure to process and trace test results, leaving people waiting seven days or longer.

On Tuesday he claimed: “We are in the process of developing a strategy that’s going to be very, very powerful. We have developed it as we go along.”

After months of refusing to wear a mask in public, Trump finally did so on 11 July and has since claimed it is patriotic. “We’re asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask,” he said. “Get a mask, whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact. They’ll have an effect, and we need everything we can get.”

Producing a mask from his suit pocket, he added: “I carry the mask ... I have the mask right here. I carry it and I will use it gladly.”

The belated appeal was insufficient to placate the president’s critics, however. Heather McGhee, the co-chair of the civil rights group Color of Change, told the MSNBC network: “This is three months too late and 30 or 40,000 lives lost too late.”

Despite the more subdued and realistic tone, Trump also offered upbeat words about a reduction in deaths and progress on vaccines and treatments for Covid-19. “The vaccines are coming, and they’re coming a lot sooner than anybody thought possible,” he said.

He also repeatedly used the racist term “China virus” and recycled his promise that one day “it will disappear”.

More than 3.8 million cases have been reported in the US, including 141,000 deaths. The briefing was the latest of several attempts to relaunch Trump’s public response to the pandemic, after months of shifting from apparent denial to a “wartime” footing to a focus on the economy and other topics.

Trump has previewed the briefings as having a good “slot” at 5pm that previously boasted strong “ratings”. But on Tuesday, he was not joined by Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, who had told an interviewer he was not invited, nor by the response coordinator, Deborah Birx, whom Trump claimed was “right outside” the briefing room.

Critics have suggested that briefings have returned, albeit in a different form, in an attempt to dominate the media limelight at the expense of Trump’s election rival, Joe Biden. Asked whether he thinks Americans should judge him in November on his handling of the pandemic, Trump replied: “This, among other things. I think the American people will judge us on this. But they’ll judge us on the economy that I created.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Biden reiterated his criticism of Trump’s response to the pandemic. “His own staff admits that Donald Trump fails the most important test of being the American president: the duty to care – for you, for all of us,” the former vice-president said in New Castle, Delaware. “He has quit on you and he has quit on this country.”


David Smith in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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