Trump downplays coronavirus fears

President Trump cares a lot about numbers — polls numbers, audience size, the Dow Jones, etc. He made it clear in his visit to the CDC that he also cares about coronavirus numbers. He said he opposed bringing ashore Americans with the coronavirus currently off-shore on a cruise ship because if they return here, the number of cases will go up.

Now, everyone should want the number of infected people to be as low as possible and the ship is coming ashore despite Trump’s statement, as he suggested at the CDC might be the case. But what Trump said implies that he is taking each case as a personal affront and that he cares more about an artificial number than the real picture (the Americans on the ship are infected whether they come back here or not). What Trump says won’t be the most important aspect of the U.S. response to the crisis, but it matters, and he’s setting himself up to get even more of the blame if the response is handled poorly.

President Trump on Monday downplayed a stock market rout driven by panic over the coronavirus outbreak and an oil price war, blaming Russia, Saudi Arabia and the media for undercutting investors.

“Good for the consumer, gasoline prices coming down!” Trump tweeted Monday morning after all three major stock indexes plunged 7 percent amid growing fears of an oil price war.

“Saudi Arabia and Russia are arguing over the price and flow of oil. That, and the Fake News, is the reason for the market drop!”

Global stocks plunged Monday after OPEC failed to strike a deal on oil output Saturday as the coronavirus outbreak dampens international travel and economic activity. Russia and Saudi Arabia slashed oil prices soon after, sending the benchmark level for crude oil sinking to the lowest level since 1991.

A sharp drop in oil prices could help boost consumer budgets through lower gasoline prices, but also weigh on the broader economy through the U.S. petroleum industry. The U.S. has also increased its oil exports to exceed its imports within the past decade, making a decline in oil prices a novel threat to the American economy.

Trump also accused the media of stoking unnecessary fear over the coronavirus outbreak within the U.S., asserting in contradiction to U.S. health officials that it was comparable to influenza.

"So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!" Trump tweeted.

There are more than 100,000 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus worldwide, including more than 500 in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview last week with NBC News that the coronavirus poses unique threats beyond those of the common flu.

“When you have a brand new virus in which no one has had any experience before, that gives the virus kind of an open roadway to spread,” Fauci said.

President Trump’s attention has been captured by the historic opening plunge in the markets today. And he seems to be trying to tweet the market back to life.

So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2020

The comparison to flu is a dangerous one because flu doesn’t spread exponentially, because we have decades of experience treating it, and because the worst cases of flu are not as severe as this virus. If we’re really going to judge public policy on the number of American deaths alone, then all our anti-terrorism efforts are even more wasteful and should be dedicated to getting Americans to stop driving automobiles.

My guess is that when it comes to coronavirus there is a psychological response mechanism at work in most people: Most of us have an instinctive opinion that the world is either too easily panicked or too difficult to rouse from sleepwalking. In this case, I fall in the latter category. Some people pass from one to the other. I noticed that a few people who scolded conservatives for their “racist” concern about the virus in Wuhan, China, have now converted to full-on panic.

I don’t think Trump’s sweet talk is going to work, and it may be having the opposite effect of what he intends. In part, the market is giving a judgment — maybe a hasty one — on Trump’s ability to address a public-health crisis. If he takes the market seriously, he should respond with more than a few tweets.

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