Trump, Barr and Esper Warn of Mexican Drug Cartel Trafficking During Coronavirus Task Force Briefing

President Donald Trump opened Wednesday's coronavirus White House task force briefing by issuing a warning about Mexican drug cartels.

"America continues to wage all out war to defeat the virus, this horrible, horrible virus, you see how terrible it is especially if you look at the numbers from yesterday," Trump said after taking the podium. "In this time of need, I know that every American will do their patriotic duty and help us achieve a total victory."

The president stood alongside Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Attorney General William Barr and several other officials, none of whom were situated six feet apart despite the federal government's social distancing guidelines.

"As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus, there's a growing threat that cartels, criminals and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain and we must not let that happen," he continued. "Today the United States is launching enhanced counternarcotics operations in the Western hemisphere to protect the American people from the deadly scourge of illegal narcotics."

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Trump said the government will increase their efforts in "surveillance, disruption and seizures of drug shipments."

Esper took the podium next and announced that the Department of Defense had commenced "enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea... to combat the flow of illicit drugs into the U.S."

Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in the press briefing room of the White House on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty

"To conduct these enhanced operations, the president has directed the deployment of additional ships, aircraft and security forces to the U.S. southern command area of responsibilities," he said.

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Barr followed with a warning of the ongoing threat of Mexican cartels during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Their trafficking is largely responsible for the death of 70,000 Americans a year," he said.

While addressing the virus, Trump said doesn't have plans to enforce a nationwide "stay-at-home" order because "there are some states that don't have much of a problem."

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the federal government's social distancing measures may be relaxed if the spread of the virus lessens and deaths near zero in the next few months. But he assured the public that this would only happen if health authorities are able to contain the virus by more effectively identifying new infections and tracking those who the patient came into contact with.

"If you have a really good program of containment that prevents you from having to get into mitigation—we're in mitigation right now. That's what the social and physical distancing is," he said.

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment.

Trump, Barr and Esper Warn of Mexican Drug Cartel Trafficking During Coronavirus Task Force Briefing | U.S.