President Donald Trump has denied downplaying the severity of the new coronavirus, despite admitting in a recorded interview to having done that.
At the Q&A meeting with undecided voters, President Trump said he had “up-played” it.
The claim contradicts comments the president made to journalist Bob Woodward earlier this year, when he said he minimized the virus’s severity to avoid panic.
President Trump also repeated on September 15 that a vaccine could be ready “within weeks” despite skepticism from health experts.
No vaccine has yet completed clinical trials, leading some scientists to fear politics rather than health and safety is driving the push for a vaccine before the November 3 presidential elections.
More than 195,000 people have died with Covid-19 in the US since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, the magazine Scientific American on September 15 endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time in its 175-year history, backing Democrat Joe Biden for the White House.
The magazine said President Trump “rejects evidence and science” and described his response to the coronavirus pandemic as “dishonest and inept”.
At the town hall meeting held by ABC News in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, President Trump was asked why he would “downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities”.
The president responded: “Yeah, well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action.”
“My action was very strong,” Donald Trump said, citing a ban imposed on people travelling from China and Europe earlier this year.
“We would have lost thousands of more people had I not put the ban on. We saved a lot of lives when we did that,” he added.
In its statement on September 15, Scientific American said despite warnings in January and February, President Trump “did not develop a national strategy to provide protective equipment, coronavirus testing or clear health guidelines.”
Bob Woodward, who broke the Watergate scandal in 1972 and is one of the US’s most respected journalists, interviewed President Trump 18 times from December 2019 to July 2020.
In February, President Trump indicated in an interview with Bob Woodward that he knew more about the severity of the illness than he had said publicly.
According to a recording of the call, President Trump said coronavirus was deadlier than the flu.
Later that month, he said that the virus was “very much under control”, and that the case count would soon be close to zero. He also publicly implied the flu was more dangerous than Covid-19.
Speaking on Capitol Hill on March 10, President Trump said: “Just stay calm. It will go away.”
Nine days later, after the White House declared the pandemic a national emergency, the president told Bob Woodward: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Donald Trump, who is seeking re-election, repeated his earlier claim that the virus would disappear on its own because people would “develop… herd mentality”, likely referring to “herd immunity” when enough people have developed resistance to a disease to stop its transmission.
The president also again cast doubt on the scientific advice of his own administration on mask-wearing.
He said: “The concept of a mask is good, but… you’re constantly touching it. You’re touching your face. You’re touching plates. There are people that don’t think masks are good.”
The CDC strongly urges the use of face masks.
President Trump has made contradictory comments on face masks, on the one hand disparaging them as unsanitary, and on the other calling on Americans to “show patriotism” by wearing them.
The Q&A meeting with undecided voters on September 15 came as the presidential election battle entered its final stretches.
Joe Biden is expected to sit for a similar program in Pennsylvania that will air on September 17.
Pennsylvania is seen as a key battleground state in the race to the White House.