Donald Trump made Vice President Mike Pence his coronavirus czar in a sudden announcement Wednesday.
He also declared the U.S. would spend ‘whatever’ it takes to beat coronavirus Wednesday at a White House press conference as the infection’s scale grew around the world.
‘We’re very, very ready for this, for anything,’ he said, even if it’s ‘a breakout of larger proportions.’
‘Every aspect of our society should be prepared. I think schools should get ready – just in case,’ he added later.
And he revealed one of the 15 Americans diagnosed with coronavirus in the US is ‘pretty sick’ and being treated in a hospital.
As he spoke the CDC confirmed a mystery new case in California, this time of a person had not recently traveled, and had no connection with other cases. It was unclear if he knew about the diagnosis when he spoke.
But Trump said the risk to Americans’ health remained ‘low,’ and that the number of people diagnosed with the virus was small.
Trump said Pence would report to him. Pence has no medical training; Trump praised his running of healthcare in Indiana when he was governor.
The vice president said extra personnel would be brought in to the White House for ‘this whole of government response,’ to the mounting worldwide health crisis.
The president boasted that he had made ‘early decisions’ which had kept the level of coronavirus down in the U.S. – but said that he would make sure government health workers have the resources they need.
‘They can do whatever they want,’ Trump said at a White House press briefing surrounded by top officials including Alex Azar, his Health and Human Services Secretary – who had denied he was being replaced by a czar just hours earlier.
Briefing: Donald Trump held an unprecedented White House press conference as the threat from coronavirus escalates
Speakers: Donald Trump was surrounded by (from left): Robert Redfield, director of the CDC; Alex Azar, the HHS secretary; Mike Pence, now the virus czar; Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC; and Tony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,
Get ready: This was the scene in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic originated, on Wednesday. 9,000 people are in critical condition in the country
Spread: A suspected coronavirus patient in Daegu, South Korea, offers a suggestion of the scenes the U.S. could see
‘If Congress want to give us the money, we’ll take the money.’
At the podium, Trump defended his administration’s response to the Coronavirus thus far, including shutting out non-citizens from China, where the first outbreak was reported. ‘Decisions that were ridiculed from the very beginning,’ the president said.
‘A lot of people thought we shouldn’t have done it that early, but we did and it turned out to be a very good thing.’
Asked directly about closing the borders to people from areas with worse infections he said: ‘At the right time we may do that, right now it’s not the right time.
‘But at the right time, and we are checking people as they come through, specifically for the problem, the problem that we’re dealing with.
‘So we’re checking a lot of people coming from South Korea, that’s been hit pretty hard, Italy’s been hit pretty hard. China, it’s obvious what’s happening in China, but again the numbers seem to be leveling off and going down in China which is very good news.’
He was also asked if he was prepared to quarantine entire cities – as has happened in Italy and China already – and replied: ‘We do have plans on a much larger scale, should we need that.
‘We don’t think we’re going to need it, but you always have to be prepared.’
Trump marveled at the number of people killed annually by the flu, explaining that in the U.S. it numbered between 25,000 and 69,000 a year.
‘That was shocking to me,’ Trump said.
The president said just 15 people in the U.S. have thus far had coronavirus, with eight returning home, one in the hospital and five fully recovered.
Trump also pulled out a visual, a piece of paper he said that listed the best prepared countries to deal with an epidemic, a product of research from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
‘John Hopkins, I guess, is greatly respected,’ Trump said. ‘We’re rated No. 1 for being prepared.’
Trump also noted how the U.S. brought in 40 people – American citizens – from a Japanese cruise ship where they had been diagnosed with the virus.
‘We thought we had an obligation to do that,’ he said. ‘We found that it was an obligation that we have, we could have left them and it would have been really bad.’
The White House had asked for $2.5 billion in extra funding for the Centers for Disease Control, but had come under pressure to increase that spending by both Republicans and Democrats.
The press conference was an apparent attempt to claim fears over the virus, which has seen stock markets plunge and Democrats and Republicans both criticizing the official response.
Trump instead suggested that the Democratic 2020 field was largely responsible for the 2,000 point drop in the Dow Jones since Monday morning.
Proof: Donald Trump brandished a Johns Hopkins University document which he said showed the US was the ‘best prepared’ country for a coronavirus outbreak
Pence in charge: The vice president said he would make sure all government resources needed were devoted to coronavirus
A total of 60 Americans now have coronavirus, but 45 of those cases are in people held in quarantines after evacuation from Wuhan or the cruise, while only a small number were detected in the US after traveling to China. The source of one infection remains unclear
Only his second appearance: Donald Trump has only been in the White House briefing room for a press conference once before; it is more than 300 days since the last briefing by a press secretary
You’re hired: Donald Trump made Mike Pence his point man on coronavirus
Source: 40 of the U.S. cases diagnosed with coronavirus were from citizens on the Diamond Princess who Trump said he felt there was ‘an obligation’ to return to American soil
‘I think the stock market is something I know a lot about. I think it took a hit maybe for two reasons,’ he said.
‘I think they looked at the people you watched debating last night and they say if there’s even a possibility that could happen, I think it really takes a hit because of that.
‘And it certainly took a hit because of this. And I understand that also, because of supply chains and various other things there are people coming in. But I think the stock market will recover.
‘The economy is very strong … Our consumers are incredible. They’re incredible. That’s why we’re doing well and other countries have not, even before the virus. We’re doing great, other countries have not been doing great.’
Trump made reference to his well-known reputation for germaphobia, and provided safety tips for Americans to follow.
‘I do it a lot anyway as you probably heard,’ he said. ‘Wash your hands. Stay clean. You don’t necessarily have to grab every hand rail unless you have to. You know, certain things that you do when you have the flu,’ he explained.
CORONAVIRUS: WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR
What is this virus?
The SARS-CoV-2 virus has been identified as a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, most of which cause mild lung infections such as the common cold.
But coronaviruses can also be deadly. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by a coronavirus and killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.
Can the Wuhan coronavirus kill?
Yes – almost 3,000 people have so far died after testing positive for the virus.
What are the symptoms?
The infection which the virus causes has been named COVID-19. Some people who catch it may not have any symptoms at all, or only very mild ones like a sore throat or a headache.
Others may suffer from a fever, cough or trouble breathing.
And a small proportion of patients will go on to develop severe infection which can damage the lungs or cause pneumonia, a life-threatening condition which causes swelling and fluid build-up in the lungs.
How is it detected?
The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China and countries around the world have used this to create lab tests, which must be carried out to confirm an infection.
Delays to these tests, to test results and to people getting to hospitals in China, mean the number of confirmed cases is expected to be just a fraction of the true scale of the outbreak.
How did it start and spread?
The first cases identified were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.
Cases have since been identified around China and are known to have spread from person to person.
What are countries doing to prevent the spread?
Countries all over the world have banned foreign travellers from crossing their borders if they have been to China within the past two weeks. Many airlines have cancelled or drastically reduced flights to and from mainland China.
Is it similar to anything we’ve ever seen before?
Experts have compared it to the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The epidemic started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
SCROLL DOWN OR CLICK HERE TO SEE MAILONLINE’S FULL Q&A ON THE CORONAVIRUS
He gave guidance consistent with what public health officials have recommended: taking prudent steps to avoid viral transmissions, as with flu and seasonal colds. Then he told an anecdote.
‘I mean, view this the same as the flu. When somebody sneezes, I try to bail out as much as possible when there’s sneezing.
‘I had a man come up to me a week ago. I hadn’t seen him in a long time and I said how are you doing? He said, ‘Fine.’ He hugs me.
‘I said, ‘Are you well?’ He says no. He said, I have the worst fever and the worst flu. And he’s hugging and kissing me. … I went back and started washing my hands. So you have to do that,’ Trump said.
The briefing was held as American coronavirus cases rose to 60 with the addition of two more Diamond Princess cruise evacuees and another American who tested positive on Wednesday.
Officials have not yet revealed how the most recently diagnosed patient acquired the life-threatening infection.
The CDC confirmed the positive test results of an additional six cruise evacuees, including four that had already been announced by local health departments.
At least five of the new patients were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship last week. They were then transported to three different quarantine sites: military bases in California and Texas and the National Quarantine Unit in Nebraska.
Global cases have now surged past 81,000, with well over 2,700 deaths – though the vast majority of fatalities have still occurred in China, where the outbreak began.
Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, dismissed Trump Wednesday, saying: ‘I don’t think the president knows what he’s talking about – once again.’
When asked about the criticism made by Pelosi, he slapped back by calling the California Democrat ‘incompetent.’
Trump also suggested under Pelosi, Democrats would lose the House again – and he said impeachment ‘lifted my poll numbers up by 10 points.’
‘She’s trying to create a panic,’ Trump said. ‘And there’s no reason to create a panic because we have done so good.’
Azar was on stage to see Pence made czar – hours after he denied claims that he was about to be replaced by an epidemic czar in the project to oversee the US’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
He claimed after Trump spoke that he was still in charge.
‘I’m still chairman of the task force,’ he said.
‘Having the vice president gives me the biggest stick one can have in the government, on this whole-of government approach. Not in the least.
‘When this was mentioned to me I was delighted I get to have the vice president helping … delighted, absolutely.’
Also on stage was the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease (NIAD) Dr Anthony Fauci, who reiterated the news that trials are set to begin for a vaccine for coronavirus, a record-setting three months after the virus was sequenced.
He added that the vaccine won’t be ready for a year to a year-and-a-half.
At that point, it will make little impact on the current outbreak but, in the likely event that the virus is here to stay in coming years, Dr Fauci expects a vaccine will be ready.
The CDC’s point person on the coronavirus outbreak, Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases Dr Nancy Messonnier had advised parents to talk to their kids’ schools about ‘teleschooling’ in the event the event of quarantines or class cancellations amid an outbreak.
‘I told my children that they are not at risk now, but we as a family need to prepare for significant disruption in our lives,’ Dr Messonnier told reporters in a Tuesday press briefing.
In a bizarre twist, she is the sister of Rod Rosenstein, the former attorney general who oversaw the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation and who was a repeated target for Trump’s ire.
She was missing from the briefing.
During the presser, Bernie Sanders, currently the Democratic frontrunner, sent out a statement blasting Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who was present at the White House briefing, for not guaranteeing during Congressional testimony earlier Wednesday that a Coronavirus vaccine would be affordable to all.
‘Under the Trump doctrine, if you are wealthy you can buy a vaccine and not succumb to the sickness. If you are poor or working class, you may have to get sick or even die,’ Sanders said.
‘That is an outrage. That is unacceptable. We need a vaccine that is available to all, not just those who can afford it.’
The new cases for which details have been released are confined to the cruise ship evacuees.
The number of people diagnosed in the US – without being repatriated – has held steady at 14 for weeks.
Another two people who were among among the 800-some Americans repatriated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in China, have also tested positive for coronavirus.
This week’s additional cases among evacuees may have come to little surprise to the CDC, which advised against letting 14 American Diamond Princess passengers whose coronavirus tests came back positive as they were about to board the evacuation flights to the US continue on the cargo planes.
State Department officials ultimately overrode the health officials on the ground in Japan, where the ship had been quarantined.
Of the 328 evacuated people, 13 ‘high risk’ passengers were taken on to Nebraska’s high-grade quarantine.
CDC officials previously said they expected to see additional cases among the cruise ship evacuees, and diagnoses have indeed rolled in.
Meanwhile, LAX airport and travelers are on high alert after a flight attendant on a Korean Air flight there from South Korea, where cases have surged to over 1,200 in a matter of days and one US soldier on Camp Carroll military base has been diagnosed with coronavirus.