Trump denies official coronavirus death rate based on his 'hunch' and suggests people with deadly virus can go to work

US President Donald Trump speaks during the Latino Coalition Legislative Summit March 4, 2020: AFP via Getty Images
US President Donald Trump speaks during the Latino Coalition Legislative Summit March 4, 2020: AFP via Getty Images

Donald Trump has denied the official global death rate for coronavirus reported by health experts because he has a “hunch” it is lower.

The president described the 3.4 per cent global death rate given by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday as a “false number” in an interview with Fox NewsSean Hannity and gave medical advice which contradicted his public health experts.

Mr Trump suggested there could be hundreds of thousands of people who would recover from the virus “just by sitting around” and suggested some people would be able to go to work even if they are infected.

When asked by Mr Hannity about the death rate, Mr Trump said: “I think the 3.4 per cent is really a false number.

“Now this is just my hunch, but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this, because a lot of people will have this and it’s very mild, they’ll get better very rapidly.”

He added: “They don’t even see a doctor, they don’t even call a doctor. You never hear about those people…”

“Personally, I'd say the number is way under 1 per cent.”

On Sunday, the WHO said most patients (80 per cent) have experienced mild illness from coronavirus, while approximately 14 per cent experienced severe disease and 5 per cent became critically ill.

However, those who have caught the virus are not recommended to go to work and have been told to self-isolate to prevent further spreading from the outbreaks.

Mr Trump has repeatedly conflated coronavirus and standard seasonal flu, which has a death rate of well below 1 per cent, and referred to the virus as the “corona flu” on Wednesday before correcting himself.

However, the WHO has made it clear there are important differences between coronavirus and influenza, even though both diseases spread in the same way.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, said on Monday that the virus, which is officially known as COVID-19, causes more severe disease than seasonal flu.

“While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity,” Dr Tedros said.

“That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease."

He added: “Globally, about 3.4 per cent of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 per cent of those infected.”

The director-general also noted that, unlike seasonal flu, it was possible to contain coronavirus outbreaks and insisted global efforts should be focused on containment of the virus at this stage.

In another sign of Mr Trump’s poor understanding of public health, the president reiterated his surprise to Mr Hannity about the number of people who are killed by flu every year.

“With the regular flu, you know, we average from 27,000 to 77,000 deaths a year. Who would think that? I never knew that until six or eight weeks ago,” he told the Fox News host.

Bill Pascrel Jr, a Democratic congressman for New Jersey, responded to the interview by suggesting Mr Trump was endangering the US public with his comments.

“It didn’t take long but we’re at the point where Trump is proclaiming he knows more than the doctors and scientists on virology and he doesn’t give a damn how many lives he endangers,” Mr Pascrell Jr wrote on Twitter.

Earlier this week, Republican senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate health committee, told Mr Trump and his vice president Mike Pence to “let the professionals do the talking” on coronavirus.

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