National security adviser Robert O’Brien defended President Trump’s response to the coronavirus and blamed the Chinese government for covering up the initial outbreak of an illness the World Health Organization declared Wednesday is now a pandemic.
“Unfortunately, rather than using best practices, this outbreak in Wuhan was covered up,” O’Brien said, pointing to “lots of open-source reporting from China” that the doctors who first identified the virus “were either silenced or put in isolation … so the word of this virus could not get out.”
By taking those actions, the Chinese government “probably cost the world community two months,” O’Brien told an audience Wednesday at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. If Beijing had adopted a more cooperative stance and allowed teams from the World Health Organization and the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bring their expertise to bear in China, “we could have dramatically curtailed both what happened in China and what’s now happening across the world,” he added.
By contrast, O’Brien defended the Trump administration’s actions to cope with the coronavirus outbreak. “I think we’ve done a good job responding to it,” he said.
The president has been roundly criticized for playing down the threat of the virus by comparing it to the flu, for saying he would prefer to keep the Americans who caught the virus on the Grand Princess cruise liner from disembarking so they didn’t increase the official tally of those infected in the United States, and for appearing to suggest, against all expert advice, that it was fine for people with the virus to go to work “and get better.”
But O’Brien credited the president for doing his best to keep Americans safe from the virus. “The president took very bold action when we realized the extent of what was happening,” he said, citing Trump’s decision to stop visitors from China from entering the country. “That bought the United States six to eight weeks to prepare for the virus,” O’Brien said.
Critics say the administration has wasted that time by failing to establish widespread testing for the virus.
O’Brien also noted that Trump had placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the administration’s coronavirus task force, which he said has been meeting “sometimes twice a day.”
However, unlike the president, O’Brien made no effort to underplay the spread of the virus or the risks it poses. “It’s a very serious situation that we’re facing,” he said, before adding that “Americans always rise to the occasion.”
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