Despite blustering in public that the coronavirus is “Fake News!” and being weaponised against him, Donald Trump is reportedly fretting about the growing crisis behind the scenes, with one ex-West Wing official telling Vanity Fair: “He’s just now waking up to the fact that this is bad, and he doesn’t know how to respond.”
The White House has said that the president himself has so far not been tested for the disease, despite coming into contact with several Republican allies who have since gone into self-isolation, including new chief of staff Mark Meadows and congressmen Doug Collins and Matt Gaetz.
Heavily-armed soldiers were on patrol and police had set up checkpoints in cities such as Milan, and in Naples a car with blue flashing lights drove through the streets to announce and enforce the lockdown.
Shoppers began queuing outside supermarkets in the early hours and they cleared shelves once they were finally allowed inside, although they had to stay a metre apart.
“His visit is to signal that the outbreak has been effectively curbed, and is an attempt to quieten external criticism of him not going to the front lines,” said Han Po, an independent Beijing-based political analyst.
The Chinese president has said that he “personally commanded and deployed” efforts to fight the virus, but drew criticism for not visiting the centre of the outbreak when the situation was at its worst. Instead, Li Keqiang, the premier, travelled there on January 27.
The virus is spreading so quickly that doctors are now having to make life-or-death decisions about who gets access to intensive care.
British Airways and Jet2 have today cancelled all their hundreds of flights to and from Italy until April at the earliest and easyJet has grounded most services – but people are still flowing into Britain from without checks.
It was a significant, if not surprising, about-face for the president, who had signalled publicly in recent months that he could indeed leave the presidency. In January, he told a veteran of the second world war that he was worried of a return to the 1980s, when Kremlin leaders “stayed in power until the end of their days,” and didn’t provide for a transition of power.
On Tuesday, he walked back that statement, saying that modern Russia’s elections made it impossible to return to a Soviet-style processions of leaders-for-life.