Trump Says China Should Face Consequences For Knowingly Spreading Coronavirus, Unless It Was a 'Mistake'

President Donald Trump held his daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on Saturday speaking partially of the virus itself, partly hammering away at "fake news" and one New York Times reporter, and a good chunk of time criticizing China and how it handled the outbreak of COVID-19.

Asked whether there should be consequences to China if it was responsible for all of the virus spread, Trump said sure, unless it was a "mistake."

"If they were knowingly responsible, then certainly," Trump said. "But if they made a mistake, a mistake is a mistake is a mistake."

Trump did not indicate what those consequences would be, but said China "made many mistakes" along the way, and that China was against the United States closing off Chinese travelers in January once the virus began its spread. He said "this crisis could have been stopped in China."

"They didn't like the idea of closing off our country. They said it was a bad thing to do, actually, and they've since taken that back," Trump told reporters and TV audience. "But it was a very lucky thing that we did it. Very lucky. We would have had numbers that were very significantly greater. [Dr. Anthony] Fauci said that. He said it would have been very significantly greater had we not that.

"But it's still a very depressing subject, because there's a lot of death. If it were stopped very early on, at the source, before it started blowing into these proportions, you have 184 countries that would have been in a lot better shape."

Coronavirus cases have topped 2.3 million worldwide, with nearly 160,000 deaths around the globe by April 18. The United States leads all countries in both cases (734,000) and deaths (38,000).

Trump said the United States is "getting back."

About 10 minutes before that, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx displayed a series of graphs that showed a flattening of the virus curve in major hot spots and metropolitan areas in the United States. After that, she displayed a graph that showed the mortality rates of countries around the world. Belgium was the leader with a mortality rate of 45.2 deaths per 100,000 in population, while the United States showed 11.24 deaths per 100,000. At the bottom of the graph was China, which showed 0.33. (Note: China was the only country with an asterisk next to it)

"I put China on there so you could see how basically unrealistic this could be," Birx said. "When highly-developed health care delivery systems of the United Kingdom and France and Belgium, Italy and Spain, with extraordinary doctors and nurses and equipment, have case fatality rates in the 20s and up to 45 in Belgium, which has an extraordinary competent health care delivery system and then China at 0.33?

"You realize these numbers, even though this includes the doubled number out of Wuhan. So I wanted really to put it in perspective, but I also wanted you to see how great the care has been for every American that has been hospitalized."

President Donald Trump and China
U.S. President Donald Trump points to an infographic during a press briefing with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on April 18, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump spoke about recent gains in the stock market reflect the success of his administrations handling of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

As Birx went to her next slide graph, Trump interrupted her and had White House workers go back to the previous slide. The president pointed at Iran's 6.06 mortality rate, and then pointed at China's 0.33 rate, saying "does anybody believe this number?" to each country he spoke of.

Birx said it was important that during a new disease, or pandemic, to have transparency where the virus or disease originated.

"It's really important to have that level of transparency because it changes how we work as a nation," Birx said. "It allowed us to make an alert on March 15 out there that vulnerable individuals and the need to protect them, and my call out to millennials to really protect their parents.

"There's never an excuse to not share information. When you are the first country to have an outbreak, you really have a moral obligation to the world to not only talk about it, but provide that information that's critical to the rest of the world to really respond to this crisis."

Birx then thanked the European countries and doctors that battled COVID-19 and relayed information back to American health officials.

Trump opened for questions from reporters, and the first two were about the administration's constant mentioning of China, and whether the White House believed the data coming from China.

"Do you think that data is good," Trump asked one reporter. "Why didn't you people, the press, figure that out. Why do we have to put up a chart? The number is impossible."

Trump said China is "doing an investigation," but followed by saying the United States is conducting its own investigations.

Trump touted the United States conducting more than 4 million coronavirus tests, more than double the amount of any other country, and he said America has more than 10,000 ventilators in stockpile for who needs them most, whether it's a state or another country.

During an earlier portion of the briefing, Trump called out New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, saying she was a "third-rate reporter" and that they "exposed her" with a video earlier in the week to debunk "fake news."

Although Trump referred to Haberman as "fake," Haberman tweeted about 12 minutes before that the briefing had "no news."

No news at this briefing so far.

— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) April 18, 2020

About the writer

Scott McDonald is a Newsweek deputy night editor based in Cape Coral, Florida. His focus is assigning and writing stories across all topics, from news to politics, business, weather, sports and international news. Scott joined Newsweek in 2018 after a lengthy career of print journalism in Texas, including The Dallas Morning News, where he was a sportswriter, and he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been a newspaper editor-in-chief and also a newspaper publisher. He is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. You can get in touch with Scott by emailing Languages: English

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