- President Donald Trump considered allowing the novel coronavirus to “wash over” the US, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
- At the time some experts believed that the best way to deal with the crisis was to allow “herd immunity” to build.
- But Trump’s top scientific adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned the president that the policy would mean “many people would die.”
- The US acted in a slower and more piecemeal way to the coronavirus crisis, and currently has more cases than any other country in the world.
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President Donald Trump weighed allowing the novel coronavirus to “wash over” the US as he considered strategies for dealing with the growing crisis in March, The Washington Post reported.
In a Situation Room meeting on March 14 — the same day Trump extended his travel ban to the UK and the Republic of Ireland in a bid to slow the spread of the pandemic — Trump reportedly suggested allowing the US to develop “herd immunity.”
The controversial approach, advocated by some experts at the time, involved letting the disease spread on the assumption that many would develop only mild symptoms and widespread immunity to the disease would begin to build.
“Why don’t we let this wash over the country?” Trump reportedly asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of the top scientific experts on the president’s coronavirus taskforce.
Two anonymous sources familiar with the president’s remarks confirmed the details of the meeting to the publication.
According to the report, Fauci initially didn’t understand what Trump meant by the phrase “wash over.” When he realized what Trump was saying, he became alarmed and laid out the likely consequences.
“Mr. President,” Fauci responded, according to the Post. “Many people would die.”
Trump was not alone in backing the “herd immunity” strategy at the time.
Top government scientific advisers in the UK reportedly initially backed a “herd immunity” strategy and Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially resisted the sweeping lockdown measures that were being put in place in other European countries.
It was only when new projections from scientists at Imperial College in London found that 500,000 could die if the disease was allowed to spread largely unchecked that the government abruptly changed course and introduced compulsory lockdown measures on March 23.
Sweden has also resisted introducing sweeping lockdown measures, with government scientists there saying that if introduced too soon, such measures can be counterproductive.
With the death toll in Sweden rising, such measures could soon be introduced, according to reports. But the government insists no such plans are imminent.
Trump has veered between advocating widespread lockdown measures, and claiming that the measures could do more damage than the disease itself.
Before extending lockdown measures for a month in early April he had previously considered ignoring the advice of his top scientists and lifting the lockdown in Easter.
In tweets he has claimed that “we can’t have the cure be worse than the problem” and that there is an urgent need to mitigate the damage to the US economy.
According to the Post, though Trump accepted Fauci’s warning in the March meeting, he is continuing to push for an early reopening of the US economy.