In the face of a rapidly expanding global coronavirus pandemic that has already killed dozens and infected at least 1,200 within the United States, President Donald Trump delivered a strange Oval Office speech Wednesday in which he focused on banning travel from Europe, said nothing about the lack of available testing across the country, and ignored many crucial aspects of the public health crisis.
The president initially said all travel would be suspended from Europe but later clarified that the ban would exempt Americans, permanent residents and their families, although such travelers could be subject to additional screening at ports of entry. Trump also clarified, amid confusion over his remarks, that the ban did not apply to trade with Europe, only “people.”
The restrictions will not apply to the United Kingdom, where the number of confirmed cases topped 400 on Wednesday.
The address marked a dramatic shift in messaging for Trump, who has spent weeks vowing that the coronavirus would die down quickly, pledging that a vaccine was coming soon and insisting that it was similar to the seasonal flu — all assertions his own health officials have contradicted repeatedly.
“Oh f****” Trump said while his microphone was on before delivering the speech. “Uh oh, I’ve got a pen mark.”
It was the first time Trump really acknowledged the depth of the outbreak of Covid-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, citing the World Health Organization’s declaration that it’s now a pandemic.
But he also cast coronavirus as a foreign threat — literally calling it “a foreign virus” — and focused largely on economic measures instead of public health ones, while repeatedly trying to reassure Americans that his administration has things under control.