World Health Organization Sticks to 3.4 Percent Coronavirus Death Rate Figure After Donald Trump Says It Is a 'False Number'

President Donald Trump has described the World Health Organization's (WHO) assessment of the COVID-19 global death rate as being based on a "false number."

In a phone interview with Fox News, the president said he believed coronavirus rates were closer to "a fraction of one percent," and not the 3.4 percent rate that the WHO stated.

That figure was cited by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday, who pointed out the mortality rate was much higher than that of the seasonal flu.

Trump told Fox anchor Sean Hannity: "I think the 3.4 percent is really a false number, now this is just my hunch...based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this, because a lot of people will have this and it's very mild, they will get better very rapidly, they don't even see a doctor."

U.S. President Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the annual Latino Coalition Legislative Summit on March 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. In a phone interview on Fox News, he played down the WHO figures on the impact of coronavirus. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

"You never hear about those people, so you can't put them down in the category, the overall population, in terms of this corona flu, or virus, so you just can't do that."

"So if we have, you know, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by sitting around, and even going to work, some of them go to work, but they get better," he told the Hannity show on Wednesday.

Trump believed that the fatalities in Washington state and cases reported in California and Oregon exaggerated the true seriousness of the virus and that "all of a sudden it seems like three or four percent, which is a very high number, as opposed to a fraction of one percent.

"Again they don't know about the easy cases, because the easy cases don't go to the hospital, they don't report to doctors... in many cases. So think that number is very high. Personally, I would say that number is way under one percent."

WHO spokesperson Tarik Jašarević told Newsweek that the mortality rate, known as Case Fatality Rate (CFR), is calculated by dividing the number of reported deaths over the number of reported confirmed cases.

"As this is an evolving outbreak this will change over time, and vary from place to place. On the one hand, early in the outbreak it may be higher where surveillance focuses on identifying severe cases, however, it may also be lower because people with severe cases may not die for several weeks.

Jašarević said that the death rate also varies between locations and that "we have seen higher CFR in Wuhan compared to other parts of China, and in the China mission report have published detailed CFR by location and at different time points.

"CFR in China has reduced massively since the beginning of the outbreak but there are varied CFRs in different countries and outbreaks. The 3.4 percent is the current global 'snapshot' CFR." The Statista graph below outlines which U.S. states have confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Statista Map U.S. Coronavirus March 4, 2020
A map by Statista shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of March 4.

People reacted on social media to Trump's views on the virus, which has killed at least 11 people in the U.S. amid accusations his administration is playing down the outbreak.

California representative Ted Lieu tweeted to his 1.2 million followers: "Here's the problem with what you are saying. People with mild or moderate symptoms can infect others, who may get more severe symptoms, or in certain cases, die. This is why we need to sufficiently test people, which your Administration failed to do."

Military analyst Barry McCaffrey tweeted: "This is frightening stupidity by Trump. He thinks he's lessening the economic impact with this dangerous babble. He's encouraging people sick with Coronavirus to infect others. Vital this get contained. Highly infectious. 20% end up hospitalized." Newsweek has contacted the White House for a response to those criticisms.

During a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence, who is in charge of his administration's coronavirus response, said that Trump "has no higher priority than the safety and health of the American people."

"To be clear—If you are a healthy American, the risk of contracting the coronavirus remains low," Pence said.