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Fact-checking Trump’s address to the nation on the coronavirus

Six fact-checks of President Trump’s false claims during his 10-minute coronavirus address to the nation on March 11. (Video: The Washington Post)

President Trump on Wednesday night delivered a brief address to the nation, but his speech was filled with misleading and wrong information. Here is a sampling, in the order in which he made the statements.

“We have been in frequent contact with our allies, and we are marshaling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people.”

During the speech, Trump announced a bar on the entry of foreign nationals from the Schengen Area, the European Union’s border-free travel zone, a 26-nation region that does not include Britain, Ireland or several other European countries. E.U. officials said they had received no heads-up about the pending announcement.

“The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” read a statement co-signed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel. “The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.”

“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.”

Beyond the unverifiable claim about his administration’s efforts, there is no such thing as a “foreign virus.” Viruses can emerge anywhere on Earth. The Spanish Flu that emerged in 1918, killing 20 million to 50 million people, is believed to have started in the United States — the first case was reported there — though no one knows for sure, except that it almost certainly did not start in Spain.

“We are responding with great speed and professionalism.”

The United States has lagged far behind other major countries in providing tests for possible cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially distributed flawed tests to state and local health departments. The lack of tests in the United States, compared with countries such as South Korea that have tested tens of thousands of people, has meant the possible spread of the virus in the country may not be fully known.

“And taking early intense action, we have seen dramatically fewer cases of the virus in the United States than are now present in Europe.”

Once a country reaches 100 cases, the number of cases appears to increase 33 percent a day. The United States reached the threshold a little later than some European countries but appears to be following the same trajectory. Moreover, inadequate testing may be obscuring the number of cases in the United States.

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“The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots.”

Trump speaks broadly about the E.U., but Italy, the hardest-hit country in Europe, on Jan. 31 imposed a ban on flights to and from China, including Hong Kong and Macao, and Taiwan. That was three days before the United States imposed a similar ban on flights to and from China — though the U.S. ban did not include Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.

“As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.”

Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has spread widely in some European countries, especially Italy, but a lack of testing makes it difficult to track the spread of the virus in the United States.

Anthony Fauci, head of the infectious-diseases division at the National Institutes of Health, backed up Trump’s claim Thursday morning and said the travel restrictions would help contain the virus. “Most of the new infections that we’re getting right now, the majority of them are coming from Europe,” Fauci said.

Other experts were not so sure.

“Some White House officials focused on public communications have tried to argue to outside experts that a portion of the cases across the country are from people who recently traveled to Europe — another epicenter of the outbreak — and less so from the spread between individuals in U.S. communities,” The Washington Post reported. “One outside public health expert said he was skeptical of the administration spin but understood the goal was to sell the public on the idea that the virus numbers are not spreading as fast as some fear.”

The Post also reported “there are more cases of coronavirus in Britain,” which was exempted, “than in many of the countries covered by the ban.”

“To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.”

The White House later acknowledged this statement was wrong. The restrictions were limited to the Schengen Area, not all of Europe. For instance, countries where Trump owns golf courses, such as Ireland, Scotland, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania, are not part of the Schengen Area.

“There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings, and these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo but various other things as we get approval.”

This was also wrong. Trade and cargo are not affected, and travel restrictions do not apply for U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents or their close relatives.

“I met with the leaders of health insurance industry, who have agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments.”

This is also wrong. Insurance companies have agreed to waive co-pay for testing but not for treatment if it turns out a person has come down with covid-19.

“We are cutting massive amounts of red tape to make antiviral therapies available in record time.”

This appears to be a reference to what Trump falsely claimed previously was a regulation imposed by the Obama administration. He earned Four Pinocchios for that claim. There was no Obama rule, and the steps taken by Trump to try to speed up testing could have been taken sooner.

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