WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump stirred controversy on Tuesday, his first full day as a COVID-19 outpatient, by pulling out of talks with Democrats on an economic aid package for the country and drawing rebukes from Facebook and Twitter for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.
After days of conflicting messages from doctors and aides about his condition, the Republican president, 74, showed he still had what it takes to fire off startling Twitter posts.
Trump played down the seriousness of the virus in online posts, seeking to get more Americans back to work and to generate optimism ahead of the November election.
“Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!” Trump wrote on Twitter and Facebook.
Twitter Inc responded by putting a warning label on the post, saying it included potentially misleading information. Facebook Inc removed the Trump post for breaking its rules on COVID-19 misinformation, according to CNN.
“This is a lie. The flu doesn’t kill 100,000 a year,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, tweeted. Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the threat from COVID-19 was “very, very much different” than influenza’s reach.
The United States has the world’s highest death toll from the pandemic, with more than 209,000 deaths. By comparison, influenza typically kills between some 22,000 and 64,000 people a year in the United States, U.S. government statistics show.
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In his first major policy pronouncement since returning to the White House from the hospital, Trump abruptly called off negotiations with Democratic lawmakers on coronavirus relief legislation until after the election, even as cases of the virus are on the rise across much of the country.
“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Following his announcement, U.S. stocks were down more than 2 percent in late afternoon trading.
Trump’s chances of winning re-election have taken a hit over the millions of jobs lost during coronavirus lockdowns. His surprising withdrawal from the talks raises doubts about how quickly the U.S. economy can recover.
Trump tested positive for coronavirus last week after months of playing down the deadly infection.
His doctor said on Tuesday that Trump reported no COVID-19 symptoms and was doing “extremely well.” Sean Conley, a Navy commander, said Trump’s vital signs remained stable, with an oxygen saturation level of 95-97%.
Trump had no public events listed for Tuesday and it was unclear when he would resume a full schedule of presidential duties and campaigning ahead of Election Day, Nov. 3.
He also tweeted that he was looking forward to a scheduled second debate with Democratic election opponent Joe Biden on Oct. 15 and wrote that he was feeling great. He had yet to be seen in public or to release a new video since Monday night.
Trump spent three days at a military hospital and was due to receive further doses of the antiviral drug remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone, which is normally used in the most severe cases.
Trailing Biden in opinion polls, Trump’s campaign sought to project an image of a strong president who is overcoming his illness and planning to get back on the campaign circuit.
“We’re looking forward to him getting back on the trail when the doctors say it’s physically feasible for him to do so. He’s ready now,” Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley told Fox News.
A Twitter post by Biden showed images of himself donning a mask and Trump removing his. “Masks Matter. They save lives,” the caption read.
Fauci, a well-known infectious diseases expert on the White House coronavirus task force, said COVID-19, which has killed a million people worldwide, was fiercer than influenza.
“The potential for what COVID… can do is very, very much different from influenza. You don’t get a pandemic that kills a million people – and it isn’t even over yet – with influenza,” Fauci said told NBC News.
Trump returned to the White House on Monday in a made-for-television spectacle, descending from his Marine One helicopter wearing a white surgical mask, only to remove it as he posed, saluting and waving, on the mansion’s South Portico.
The severity of his illness has been the subject of intense speculation, with some experts noting that, as an overweight, elderly man, he was in a high risk category.
#GaspingForAir began trending on Twitter after video showed Trump appearing to take several deep breaths while standing on the White House balcony.
Many Trump aides and confidants have been diagnosed with the disease since his announcement last week that he had tested positive, intensifying scrutiny and criticism of the administration’s handling of the pandemic.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany, herself diagnosed with the virus, said the rise in COVID-19 cases at the White House and among some Republican senators was not disrupting the functioning of the U.S. government.
The top U.S. military leaders are isolating after the Coast Guard’s No. 2 tested positive for the coronavirus, Pentagon officials said.
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