Trump downgrades predicted coronavirus death toll and says there should be less than 100,000 fatalities

President announces emerging deal to calm oil markets, says Mexico will 'reimburse us at a later date' and reduce production

John T. Bennett
Washington
Friday 10 April 2020 20:06
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Trump predicts 'big bounce' for US economy following end of coronavirus lockdown

Donald Trump, after recently saying up to 200,000 Americans could die from coronavirus, said mitigation efforts should bring the total death toll "substantially" lower as he levied threats against the World Health Organisation and China. He also claimed "absolute authority" to overrule governors on ordering citizens to stay at home.

The president argued he has the legal power to order all Americans – or ones in specific states – to remain at home to continue efforts to tamp down the deadly disease's spread. If he thought a governor was putting people at risk by withholding such an order, "I would do it in a heartbeat," he claimed despite earlier saying his "federalist" philosophy – which is rooted in states having ample powers – has been a big reason he has not yet issued a nationwide declaration.

"I'm going to have to make a decision, and I pray to god it's the right decision," he said. "I don't know that I have had a bigger decision. Hopefully it's going to be the right decision."

Mr Trump on Friday downgraded his own dire estimates, saying federal health officials now expect around 60,000 people to die during the pandemic outbreak, something he credited to Americans being "brave" largely by staying home.

"It looks like we're headed for a number substantially below the 100,000 mark," said Mr Trump, who has focused on the death toll more than other matters throughout the outbreak.

On a day when US stock markets were closed due to Good Friday ahead of the Easter holiday, Mr Trump announced the US government will provide an economic package to Mexico as part of a possible deal to stabilise global oil markets, which have been rocked by a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The American leader said his administration will send funds to Mexico and that country will cuts its crude oil production by 100,000 barrels, suggesting Saudi and Russian leaders had blamed part of their moves on Mexican production.

In a twist not likely to sit well with his conservative political base, he said of Mexican officials and that coming payment: "They will reimburse us at a later date – we will see how that all works out." Under questioning from reporters, Mr Trump was as vague as ever, saying the US would eventually be paid back "in a form." Mexican leaders expressed concerns to him they would not comply with OPEC and Russian officials' demands to lower production unless they were compensated.

The global oil market has a "glut" of product, Mr Trump said, noting he has cut off efforts to buy cheap oil to fill the US national stockpile because "they're storing it on ships."

Such a deal with Mexico likely would have moved stock indexes, which the president again showed are never far from his mind.

"I think the market thinks that we have done well," Mr Trump said, noting this week's market rebound is the best such four-day upswing since 1974. As the briefing wore on, Mr Trump cited the markets' comeback as a "sign" that "we have a chance to do really well."

"This quarter isn't one I'm looking at," he said, predicting the fourth quarter the year will be the one that reveals America's economic fate.

With both chambers of Congress on recess and former Vice President Joe Biden not campaigning due to the pandemic outbreak, criticism of Mr Trump has been somewhat more muted in Washington this week. But the Biden campaign still contended that the Trump administration "disregarded existing plans that could have dramatically sped up testing capability and slowed the spread of the coronavirus."

Mr Biden's campaign, in a statement also, citing media reports, alleged that "the intelligence community was warning about the threat of the coronavirus as early as November 2019," posing this question to the president directly: "Why did your administration ignore these warning signs and why did you eventually disregard their findings when you were briefed on them?"

For his part, Mr Trump has partially sidestepped such questions, instead focusing on his order to ban travellers from China, where the virus first went public.

Asked if he is dead set on opening all or part of the country come May, Mr Trump said he is not "determined" to do so, contending he will follow the "facts."

The president also made several threats during a lengthy press conference that undermined his claims he is devoting ample time to managing the federal response.

He threatened a major shakeup of the World Health Organisation after criticising it for missing the coronavirus outbreak and complaining the United States pays far more than other countries like China.

Mr Trump campaigned on the United States, in his view, paying too much into NATO coffers, and also criticised the World Trade Organisation. But while he pushed for funding changes, the president did not move to essentially terminate either global entity. He continued saying, depending on the year, that Washington pays $500m or $400m or $300m into the group. But budget documents show the US was slated to give the WHO around $120m in 2020 and his administration is proposing to cut that amount by half in 2021.

On a bit of a lighter note, Mr Trump sent a shout out to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was released this week from intensive care after being treated in a London hospital for coronavirus.

The US leader called his counterpart "a friend of mine, a real friend of mine" and "a tremendous guy." The president quipped that Mr Johnson must be at "100 per cent popularity," before saying with a wide smile: "His approval rating must be about 300 per cent."

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