PRESIDENT Donald Trump has denied downplaying the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, saying instead that he "up-played" the severity of the highly contagious virus.
At ABC News' town hall The President and the People, Trump was asked on Tuesday night by an undecided voter why he would "downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities."
He quickly denied ever minimizing the severity of coronavirus.
Trump said: "Yeah, well, I didn't downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action. My action was very strong."
To back up his claim that he "up-played" the pandemic "in terms of action," the president cited the travel bans he imposed on China and Europe in February and March, respectively.
When pressed by ABC News anchor and town hall moderator George Stephanopoulos about "his own words" about the virus threat, Trump asserted that he did "a very, very good job" with the travel bans.
He continued: "Whether you call it 'talent' or 'luck,' it was very important, so we saved a lot of lives when we did that."
Trump fielded a wide range of questions from uncommitted voters at the event, which was held at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – a key battleground state in the upcoming presidential election.
The president has recently faced backlash for comments he made to journalist Bob Woodward in March that appeared to conflict with his earlier beliefs that the pandemic would disappear by April.
Stephanopoulos hammered Trump on his claims that COVID-19 will disappear, asking: "It would go away without the vaccine?"
"Sure, over a period of time. Sure, with time," the president responded before going on to predict that nearly two million Americans would have died without his leadership.
"I think we did a great job," he said, as the country continues to climb pass 195,000 coronavirus deaths.
Trump doubled down on his pandemic response, saying he regrets nothing.
Early excerpts released last week from Woodward's new book Rage revealed that Trump confessed to the author that the virus was "deadly stuff" during a February 7 interview.
Woodward collected interview recordings with the president where he made several comments – including that coronavirus could be five times "more deadly" than the flu.
But during several press briefings at the White House, Trump would tell reporters and the American public that the virus was "under control" and would "disappear."
Trump later admitted to downplaying the COVID threat to "reduce panic" hours after his initial comments were reported.
“You have to show leadership, and leadership is confidence in our country,” Trump said.
“I’m a cheerleader for this country,” the president said. “I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic.”
The president has slammed Woodward's book, which was released on Tuesday, as "just another political hit job."
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