US President Donald Trump has denied that he downplayed the seriousness of Covid-19, despite admitting in a recorded interview having done that.
At a televised event with voters, Mr Trump said he had “up-played” it.
The claim contradicts what Mr Trump told journalist Bob Woodward earlier this year that he minimised the virus’s severity to avoid panic.
And Mr Trump repeated that a vaccine could be ready “within weeks” despite scepticism from US health experts.
No vaccine has yet completed clinical trials, leading some scientists to fear politics rather than health and safety is driving the push for a vaccine before the 3 November presidential elections.
Woodward, who broke the Watergate scandal in 1972 and is one of the nation’s most respected journalists, interviewed Mr Trump 18 times from December to July.
Mr Trump was quoted as telling him the virus was “deadly stuff” before the first US death was confirmed.
More than 195,000 people have died with Covid-19 in the US since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins university.
What did President Trump say?
At Tuesday’s town hall meeting held by ABC News in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Mr Trump was asked why would he “downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities”.
Mr Trump responded: “Yeah, well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many was, I up-played it, in terms of action.”
“My action was very strong,” he said, citing a ban imposed on people travelling from China and Europe earlier this year.
“We would have lost thousands of more people had I not put the ban on. We saved a lot of lives when we did that,” Mr Trump said.
In February, Mr Trump indicated in the interview with Woodward that he knew more about the severity of the illness than he had said publicly.
“It goes through the air,” Mr Trump is heard saying on the tape. “That’s always tougher than the touch. You don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.
“And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
In Philadelphia, Mr Trump, who is seeking re-election, also repeated his earlier claim that the virus would disappear on its own because people would “develop… herd mentality”, likely referring to “herd immunity” when enough people have developed resistance to a disease to stop its transmission.
The Q&A meeting with undecided voters comes as the presidential election battle enters its final stretches.
Mr Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden is expected to sit for a similar programme in Pennsylvania that will air on Thursday.
Pennsylvania is seen as a key battleground state in the race to the White House.
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