Trump defiant as White House is rebuked for coronavirus 'mess'

Washington (AFP) –


President Donald Trump defended the "perfectly coordinated" US response to the coronavirus epidemic Sunday amid heavy criticism over health cuts and strategic blunders that have failed to stem its rapid spread.

The virus has reached 30 US states, killing at least 19 people, while the American capital announced its first case Saturday and 60 million people in California and New York state were under emergency orders.

Trump, who has been accused of peddling misinformation on the outbreak, blamed the media in an early morning tweet for trying to make his government "look bad" as criticism mounted with nearly 500 cases recorded.

"We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on CoronaVirus," Trump tweeted.

"We moved VERY early to close borders to certain areas, which was a Godsend. V.P. is doing a great job. The Fake News Media is doing everything possible to make us look bad. Sad!"

But Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, criticized Trump's messaging around the outbreak, telling NBC the president "hasn't communicated the way I would, and the way I might like him to."

Trump has been heavily rebuked for repeatedly contradicting the advice of his administration's experts in his public pronouncements about the coronavirus.

- President to blame -

He has downplayed the threat posed by the epidemic, which has killed more than 3,500 people since emerging in China, suggesting cases were "going very substantially down, not up," falsely pledging that a vaccine would soon be available and claiming without evidence that the official estimate of the death rate was "false."

From the start of February, the Trump administration focused on cutting off travel from China and imposing quarantines in an effort to keep the virus out of the United States.

Epidemiologists say the initial containment effort may have slowed the arrival of the virus but accuse the White House of wasting time with a strategy concerned more with the political narrative than domestic readiness.

Chief among the complaints has been the lack of testing caused by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developing its own flawed kits, rather than using those approved by the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile critics point to deep CDC cuts and the White House's removal of a position on the National Security Council for responding to pandemics.

"Many officials have a hand in this mess, but the president is the crucial variable," Jeremy Konyndyk, a director of the Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance during the Ebola outbreak, wrote in The New York Times on Saturday.

"Errors happen in any crisis. But when a president insists on claiming success irrespective of reality, it becomes much harder for those under him to acknowledge and correct mistakes."

New York became the latest state over the weekend to declare an emergency as the number of patients there rose to 89.

- Locking down entire cities -

Meanwhile officials reported that two people at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference attended by Trump and the administration's coronavirus point man, Vice President Mike Pence, had tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC that officials were "accelerating dramatically" on coronavirus testing.

He told Fox News the possibility of following Italy's example in locking down large sections of the population, or even entire cities, could not be ruled out.

"You don't want to alarm people but, given the spread we've seen, anything is possible," he said.

A US cruise ship hit by the outbreak was given permission late Saturday to dock in California's Bay Area on Monday, after reporting 21 infections on board.

He said a plan would be in place "within 72 hours" of Pence's meeting with cruise ship company CEOs on Saturday.