US President Donald Trump admitted in March that he was intentionally downplaying the severity of the coronavirus in order to avoid causing panic, according to an upcoming book by noted journalist Bob Woodward.
"I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic," Trump said, according to excerpts in the Washington Post.
Audio recordings of the interviews were available on CNN's website.
"It goes through the air," Trump said in a February 7 call with Woodward.
"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."
The US has been one of the hardest hit countries in the pandemic.
More than 180,000 people have died.
"This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency," national security adviser Robert O'Brien told Trump in January, the book says.
However, several months later, Trump told Woodward he did not recall the warning.
Kayleigh McEnany, the president's press secretary, told reporters the "president has never lied to the American public on COVID," and insisted he was merely focused on ensuring calm amid the pandemic.
"We have done a very good job," she said.