With the goal of calming Americans’ fears, President Trump used a national address to blame the spread of coronavirus on the European Union and offered little help to Americans beyond economic assistance.
Trump said in a Wednesday evening speech from the Oval Office that he is “marshaling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people” and called the response “the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.”
“From the beginning of time, nations and people have faced unforeseen challenges including large scale and very dangerous health threats,” Trump said. “This is the way it always was and always will be. It only matters how you respond, and we are responding with great speed and professionalism.”
He then attempted to blame Europe for the virus reaching America while bragging about the “resilience” of the American economy.
“Taking early, intense action, we have seen dramatically fewer cases of the virus in the United States than are now present in Europe,” Trump said. “The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.”
The president next laid out his plan for responding to the virus.
He discussed new measures including a suspension of all travel from Europe to the U.S. for 30 days beginning midnight Friday, with exceptions for Americans who have passed screenings for the virus. The president said in his speech that this includes a ban on trade and cargo from Europe, excepting the United Kingdom, but reversed himself in a tweet after the speech saying that trade will not be affected.
To protect the elderly, who have been particularly vulnerable to the disease, Trump said the government advised nursing homes to suspend “all medically unnecessary visits” and that older Americans should avoid non-essential travel. He also called for cancellations of large gatherings, saying, “Smart action today will prevent the spread of the virus tomorrow.”
He also said he would take emergency action to provide financial relief to workers who are ill, quarantined or a caretaker for others. And he called on the Small Business Administration to provide capital and liquidity to firms affected by coronavirus through low-interest loans for losses caused by the virus. The government will also defer tax payments for individuals and businesses affected by the virus.
This is in addition to measures he already announced earlier, including payroll tax relief, “cutting red tape” hindering the creation of antiviral medications and $8.3 billion funding for the CDC, vaccine research and equipment distribution.
Trump tried to quell fears near the end of the speech, saying, “[For] the vast majority of Americans, the risk is very, very low. Young and healthy people can expect to recover fully and quickly if they should get the virus. The highest risk is for elderly populations with underlying health conditions. The elderly population must be very, very careful.”
He then reiterated the same advice the CDC has been giving for self-protection: “Each of us has a role to play in defeating this virus. Wash your hands, clean often-used surfaces, cover your face and mouth if you sneeze or cough, and most of all, if you are sick or not feeling well, stay home.”
But the president’s focus seemed more on stopping the virus from coming from abroad when it’s already on our shores. “The virus will not have a chance against us,” he said. “No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States.”
However, the U.S. would be significantly more prepared had Trump not fired the government’s specialized team to combat global pandemics two years ago. As Laurie Garrett reported in Foreign Policy, in 2018 “the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure.”
Now, we have Jared Kushner on the case instead.
This post has been updated.