Coronavirus: Six of President Trump’s claims fact-checked

2020-03-12 14:52:47

Trump speaking to scientists at a vaccine research centre
Trump speaking to scientists at a vaccine research centre

President Donald Trump has been defending his handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and has now introduced travel restrictions on most of Europe.

We’ve fact-checked some of the president’s recent claims.

Claim 1

“The US has done a very good job on testing. When people need a test they can get a test.”

In early March, the White House conceded that the United States did not have enough testing kits. Some health centres have also reported difficulties using them. The government says more than one million have now been distributed, with more on the way.

But the US has carried out far fewer tests than other countries – 26 per million people between 3 January and 11 March compared with South Korea’s 4,000. The UK has carried out 400 tests per million and Italy 1,000 as of 10 March. Health experts fear the virus may have spread undetected in US communities because few tests were carried out.

Claim 2

“We made a life-saving move with early action on China. Now we must take the same action with Europe.”

President Trump has often cited travel restrictions as the reason the number of coronavirus cases is relatively low in the US and says many lives have been saved. On 31 January, any foreign national who had been to China within the previous 14 days was barred from entering the US. Three major US airlines operating flights to China had already stopped flying.

Later in February, restrictions were placed on foreign nationals who had been in Iran – which was already under a travel ban – in the previous 14 days. Non-US citizens from 26 European countries are now banned from entering the US.

US citizens and their families are largely exempt from all these restrictions. Experts believe the US action bought the government time to prepare and reduced the number of cases, but we don’t know whether it saved lives. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said travel restrictions can be harmful “by hindering info-sharing, medical supply chains and harming economies”.

Banner image reading 'more about coronavirus'Banner image reading 'more about coronavirus'
Banner image reading ‘more about coronavirus’

Claim 3

When asked about WHO data on the virus’s death rate: “I think the 3.4% is really a false number… Personally, I think the number is way under 1%.”

In a telephone interview on Fox News, President Trump said a WHO figure of 3.4% for the coronavirus death rate was “false”. WHO reported this figure on 3 March and said it was based on all the confirmed coronavirus cases that had resulted in death.

Mr Trump said he thought the true death rate, based on “my hunch”, was “way under 1%”. He said the death rate appeared higher because many people who caught a mild form of the virus did not report it to the doctor and therefore did not end up as confirmed cases.

At the moment we don’t know how likely you are to die from coronavirus, mainly because of the lack of data on infections. However, scientists’ current best guess is about 1%.

Passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship in California tested positive for coronavirusPassengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship in California tested positive for coronavirus
Passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship in California tested positive for coronavirus

Claim 4

On 9 March: “Last year 37,000 Americans died from the common flu. Nothing is shut down, life and the economy go on… Think about that.”

This statement from the president requires context. We don’t know exactly how many Americans’ deaths there have been linked to flu. But estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) give a range between 26,339 and 52,664 flu deaths last winter (between October 2019 and February 2020), with a best estimate of 34,157. So a lot of people die from flu each year, as Mr Trump points out.

However, unlike most strains of flu, the spread of new coronavirus has not yet been contained by vaccines or immunity from previous outbreaks, and scientists (including those from the WHO) believe it has a significantly higher death rate than that of seasonal flu (which, on average, is about 0.1%).

Claim 5

On 7 March: “Very soon, we’re going to come up [with a vaccine].”

Currently there is no vaccine for this new coronavirus, although scientists in many countries are working hard to develop one. Scientists say realistically, one won’t be ready until at least the middle of next year. Testing of vaccines on animals has already started and if that goes to plan, there could be human trials later in the year.

Claim 6

On 29 February: “We’ve taken the most aggressive actions to confront the coronavirus. They are the most aggressive taken by any country.”

As we know, the US has imposed travel restrictions and quarantine measures but to suggest that the US has taken the most aggressive measures to counter the virus is not right. China and Italy, for example, have introduced widespread quarantining, affecting millions of people. The United States has not adopted anything remotely similar.

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