Politics

Trump dismissed coronavirus pandemic worry in January — now claims he long warned about it

Key Points
  • President Trump now claims he believed the coronavirus outbreak was "a pandemic, long before it was called a pandemic."
  • But in January he had explicitly played down such concerns when asked about that specific word, "pandemic," saying: "We have it totally under control."
  • Trump's revisionist claim came as he discussed aggressive measures to stem the progress of a pandemic that has rocked financial markets and led to widespread restrictions on travel, schools, restaurants and retailers.
VIDEO1:3301:33
Trump: 'I've felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic'

President Donald Trump claimed on Tuesday he has believed the coronavirus outbreak was "a pandemic, long before it was called a pandemic" — but in January, he explicitly played down concerns when asked about it.

"No, not at all," Trump told CNBC in a Jan. 22 interview on CNBC when "Squawk Box" co-host Joe Kernen asked him if there were worries about an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China becoming a "pandemic."

"It's going to be just fine," Trump assured Kernen during the interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"We have it totally under control."

Trump's revisionist claim to the contrary on Tuesday came as he discussed aggressive measures to stem the progress of a pandemic that has rocked financial markets and led to widespread restrictions in the United States on travel, schools, restaurants, theaters, shopping centers and other gathering places.

Trump was speaking at a White House press conference when a reporter asked about what many have noted was a change in tone on how he has spoken about the outbreak.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Kevin Dietsch | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Then, on Wednesday, the president, in a tweet, doubled down on his claim that he always took the disease "very seriously."

Trump tweet 

In recent days Trump has announced new, strict guidelines designed to slow the rate of virus transmission, called for cash payments to Americans to alleviate their financial distress from the pandemic, and said he was contemplating other actions.

At the same time, U.S. deaths from coronavirus have increased to at least 85, with more than 4,660 reported cases. Worldwide, there are more than 183,000 cases of coronavirus, and at least 7,167 deaths.

Some news reports have tied Trump's new stance on coronavirus response to a projection that more than 2.2 million people in the United States alone would die from COVID-19 if the government and individuals did not take radical steps to restrict interactions between people.

That projection was made by an epidemic modeling group at Imperial College London, whose lead author, Neil Ferguson, has said he sent the analysis to the White House last week, according to The New York Times.

"Was there a shift in tone?" the reporter asked the president.

Trump said, "I didn't feel different."

"I've always known this is a, this is a real, this is a pandemic," the president said.

"I've felt that it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic."

"All you had to do was look at other countries, I think now it's in almost a 120 countries, all over the world.

"No, I've always viewed it as serious," he said. "There was no difference yesterday from days before. I feel the tone is similar but some people said it wasn't."

But during his Jan. 22 interview on CNBC, Trump claimed the virus was "totally under control."

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President Trump on the coronavirus: We have it totally under control

Kernen opened that interview by noting that "a case of coronavirus" had been identified in Washington state by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Have you been briefed by the CDC?" Kernen asked.

"I have," Trump replied.

Kernen then asked: "Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?"

Trump said: "No. Not at all."

"And, we're, we have it totally under control," Trump said.

"It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine."

On Feb. 28, Trump said that Democrats are using the coronavirus outbreak as a "hoax" to damage him and his administration.

"The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus," the president said at a campaign rally in South Carolina.

President Donald Trump speaks during a CNBC Exclusive interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 22nd, 2020.
Adam Galica | CNBC

"One of my people came up to me and said: 'Mr. President they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn't work out too well.' They couldn't do it. They tried the impeachment hoax that was on a perfect conversation," he continued.

"This is their new hoax," Trump said.

He also said that same day, "We have to take it very, very seriously. ... We are preparing for the worst."

""My administration has taken the most aggressive action in modern history to prevent the spread of this illness in the United States. We are ready. We are ready. Totally ready."

But he also said,  "It's going to disappear. One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear."

Here is a timeline of Trump's comments on coronavirus:

Feb. 7 (tweet): "… as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone."
 
Feb. 10: "I think the virus is going to be — it's going to be fine."
 
Feb. 14: "We have a very small number of people in the country, right now, with it. It's like around 12. Many of them are getting better. Some are fully recovered already. So we're in very good shape."
 
Feb. 19: "I think it's going to work out fine. I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus. So let's see what happens, but I think it's going to work out fine."
 
Feb. 24 (tweet): "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. … Stock Market starting to look very good to me!"
 
Feb. 25: "You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country. We have very few people with it, and the people that have it are … getting better. They're all getting better. … As far as what we're doing with the new virus, I think that we're doing a great job."
 
Feb. 26: "Because of all we've done, the risk to the American people remains very low. … When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero. That's a pretty good job we've done."
 
Feb. 28: "I think it's really going well. … We're prepared for the worst, but we think we're going to be very fortunate."
 
Feb. 28: "It's going to disappear. One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear."
 
Feb. 28: "This is their new hoax."
 
March 4: "Some people will have this at a very light level and won't even go to a doctor or hospital, and they'll get better. There are many people like that."
 
March 9 (tweet): "So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!"
 
March 10: "And it hit the world. And we're prepared, and we're doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away."
 
March 11: "I think we're going to get through it very well."
 
March 12: "It's going to go away. ... The United States, because of what I did and what the administration did with China, we have 32 deaths at this point … when you look at the kind of numbers that you're seeing coming out of other countries, it's pretty amazing when you think of it."
 
March 15: "This is a very contagious virus. It's incredible. But it's something that we have tremendous control over."
 
March 16: "If you're talking about the virus, no, that's not under control for any place in the world."
 
March 17: "I've always known this is a, this is a real, this is a pandemic … I've felt that it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic."