Donald Trump has been mocked for his claim that 99 per cent of coronavirus cases are “harmless” – but the White House isn’t backing down.
Donald Trump has been mocked for his claim that 99 per cent of coronavirus cases are “harmless” – but the White House isn’t backing down.

White House doubles down after Trump virus claim

The White House has doubled down on US President Donald Trump's claim that 99 per cent of coronavirus cases are "totally harmless".

Mr Trump made that rather contentious assertion during his remarks on Independence Day over the weekend.

"We got hit by the virus that came from China. And we've made a lot of progress. Our strategy is moving along well," Mr Trump said.

"It goes out in one area, and rears back its ugly face in another area. But we've learned a lot. We've learned how to put out the flame.

"We have tested over 40 million people. But by so doing, we show cases, 99 per cent of which are totally harmless."

The President left his definition of "harmless" open to interpretation.

Experts assumed he was referring to the virus's mortality rate. The US has recorded three million infections, with a death toll of 132,784. Do the maths and you get a mortality rate of 4.4 per cent, but the true percentage is likely significantly lower, due to the untold number of people infected with the disease who show no symptoms and never get tested.

If those people were included in the statistics, the mortality rate would drop.

Is the real rate more like 1 per cent? Maybe. We don't know. But it's the number Mr Trump is going with.

His claim that the virus was "totally harmless" for the other 99 per cent of patients was swiftly derided as "ridiculous" and a "remarkable lie" in parts of the US media.

"The President was saying even with the spikes in cases, 99 per cent of the cases are 'totally harmless'. Now, I'm not a doctor, but I know a little bit about math," said Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto.

"So I was looking at the 2.7 million cases we have and the 5 per cent death rate associated with that. Hospitalisations closer to a 10 per cent rate. And hospitalisation rates for those with respiratory issues about a 9 per cent clip.

"Bottom line, I don't come up with 99 per cent of cases (being) totally harmless."

Cavuto's guest, Dr Qanta Ahmed, pointed out that some people who survive the virus suffer long-term damage to their lungs.

Questioned on multiple TV networks yesterday, the Commissioner of America's Food and Drug Administration would neither defend nor contradict Mr Trump.

"I'm not going to get into who is right and who is wrong," Dr Stephen Hahn said.

Today, however, government officials were more willing to back up the President's claim.

"Where did he get that stat from? Is that a generalisation?" Fox News morning host Brian Kilmeade asked White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

"No, I don't even know that it's a generalisation," Mr Meadows said.

"When you start to look at the stats and look at all the numbers we have, the amount of testing that we have, the vast majority of people are safe from this.

"When you look at the deaths that we have, if you're over 80 years of age or if you have three, what they call comorbidities - diabetes, hypertension, heart issues - then you need to be very, very careful.

"Outside of that, the risks are extremely low, and the President is right with that, and the facts and statistics back us up there."

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, made the same point.

"I'm not minimising it, but I think we should also have a proper perspective," Mr DeSantis told reporters.

"When we went into this, there were people saying that a 20-year-old was just as at risk as a 90-year-old. And that's just not true. We know where the risk is. We know the comorbidities that are impacted.

"The number one age for cases in Florida is 21. And if you're 21 and you don't have significant comorbidities, your fatality rate is pretty much zero.

"From a clinical perspective, a thousand cases under the age of 30 is going to be less significant than 50 cases in a long-term care facility. That's just the way this virus works. It's very much dependent on the age and the comorbidities."

At today's White House media briefing, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked to explain exactly what Mr Trump meant.

"The President said that 99 per cent of coronavirus cases are 'totally harmless'. Which members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force agree with that statement?" a reporter asked.

"So what the President was pointing to - and I'm glad you brought it up - was a factual statement, one that is rooted in science, and one that was pointing out the fact that mortality in this country is very low," Ms McEnany said.

She presented two charts, the first showing how the US mortality rate had declined over time, and the second comparing its rate favourably to some European countries.

For the record, the US has the world's ninth-highest rate of coronavirus deaths per capita. The only countries doing worse on that measure are France, Sweden, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Andorra, Belgium and the tiny republic of San Marino.

"Just to follow up quickly though, so if you don't die, is it not harmless?" the reporter pressed.

"The President was noting the fact that the vast majority of Americans who contract coronavirus will come out on the other side of this," Ms McEnany said.

"Of course, no one wants to see anyone in this country contract COVID, which is why the administration has fought hard to make sure that's not the case with our historic response effort."




Originally published as 'He's right': White House doubles down