Trump, who downplayed pandemic threat, says he ‘always viewed it as very serious’

“But I didn’t feel different,” he continued. “I’ve always known this is a real — this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

The president has been criticized over the course of several weeks for repeatedly minimizing the coronavirus threat, while public health officials within his administration have issued urgent warnings as to the risk the disease posed to the nation. In his first statements on the coronavirus in late January, Trump said the United States had it “totally under control” and tweeted days later that it “will all work out well.”

The president’s efforts to downplay the pandemic continued steadily until as recently as earlier this month. He accused the World Health Organization of producing an inaccurate mortality rate, falsely claimed that “anybody that wants a test can get a test,” and predicted that “it will go away. Just stay calm.”

But the White House’s optimism seemed to dim significantly Monday, as the coronavirus continued to ravage communities and the federal government rolled out a new slate of stern guidelines intended to counter its rapid spread. Announcing the new measures, a subdued Trump lamented the “invisible enemy” facing Americans and acknowledged that “this is a very bad one.”

The apparent shift in messaging coincided with the release of a report by British researchers estimating that as many as 2.2 million people in the U.S. could perish as a result of the coronavirus if drastic steps were not taken to fight its transmission.

Addressing reporters Tuesday, however, the president argued that “there was no difference yesterday from days before” in his assessment of the coronavirus, and asserted that he had “always viewed it as very serious.”

“I feel the tone is similar, but some people said it wasn’t,” he concluded.