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Donald Trump has struggled to defend his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in a car crash new interview in which he claimed the United States was doing an “incredible job” despite suffering 158,000 deaths.
The embattled US president insisted he has “saved millions of lives” and claimed that America’s level of Covid-19 testing meant the statistics were skewed against him.
“The United States is lowest in numerous categories,” he claimed. “We’re lower than the world. Lower than Europe.”
Mr Trump said he was basing his claims on the number of deaths as a proportion of cases rather than as a proportion of population.
“You can’t do that,” he told interviewer Jonathan Swan, of the Axios news site, when he said the US fared badly in comparison with other countries when comparing deaths per head of population. “You have to go by, you have to go by – look. here is the United States – you have to go by the cases. The cases of death.”
“You know, there are those that say you can test too much. You do know that,” he added.
Asked who claimed that too much testing was a problem, the president added: “Oh, just read the manuals. Read the books.”
“Other countries test – you know when they test? They test when somebody’s sick. That’s when they test. And I’m not saying they’re right or wrong. Nobody’s done it like we’ve done it. We’ve got absolutely no credit for it. But we’ve come up with so many tests. The only thing we have now is, some people have to wait longer than we’d like them to.”
Dismissing Mr Swan’s claims that America has fared badly compared to countries like South Korea and Germany, the president brandished a chart, claiming: “Here’s one right here, United States. The number of cases – have a look. We’re last. Meaning we’re first.”
“Take a look, it’s cases. And we have cases because of the testing.”
The interviewer pointed out that South Korea, which has a population of 51 million, has seen only 300 deaths Covid-19 death.
“You don’t know that,” Mr Trump said. “You think they’re faking their statistics?” Mr Swan asked. The president replied: “I won’t get into that.”
He added: “Many of those tests are now obsolete, because you know, it’s called science, and all of a sudden something’s better. But because we tested so many people, 55-60 million people, very soon, we get cases. You test, some kid has even just a little runny nose, it’s a case. And then you report many cases. So we look like we have more cases than massive countries, like China – which by the way, doesn’t report, as you know.
“The point is, because we are so much better at testing than any other country in the world, we show more cases.”
Mr Trump said he moved quickly to shut down the economy and stop flights to the US from China and Europe despite being warned he was being too tough.
“Look, look, nobody knew what this thing was all about,” he said. “This has never happened before. And by the way, if you watch the fake news on television, they don’t even talk about it, but there are 188 other countries right now that are suffering. Some, proportionately, far greater than we are.
“Right now, right now, Spain is having a big spike. And there are tremendous problems in the world. You look at Moscow, look at what’s going on with Moscow. Look at Brazil. Look at these countries, what’s going on. This was sent to us by China, one way or the other, and we’re never going to forget it.
“I closed down the greatest economy ever in history. And then, I closed it down. And now we’re opening it. And we saved, by the way, by closing it, we saved millions of lives,” he bragged.
“If we would have gone to herd [immunity], and we knew very little about the disease, if we would have gone herd, we would have lost millions of people. Millions of people.”
Asked why he continued to hold political rallies while the numbers of deaths from the pandemic continued to grow, Mr Trump preferred to quibble about the numbers who attended a gathering in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“Excuse me, Jonathan. We had a 19,000-seat stadium. First of all we had 12,000 people, not 6000, which you reported and other people reported.”
He said he held the rally in Tulsa because “that was a good area at the time.”
In the White House interview, Mr Trump also dismissed the legacy of the late civil rights leader John Lewis, saying he didn’t know how he would be remembered. “He didn't come to my inauguration,” said the president. “He didn't come to my State of the Union speeches. And that's OK. That's his right. And, again, nobody has done more for Black Americans than I have.”
He also called the longtime tradition of mail-in voting in a presidential election a “new phenomenon.”