US President Donald Trump staged a dramatic return to the White House on Monday (local time) after leaving the military hospital where he has been receiving an unprecedented level of care for coronavirus.
In a video filmed after returning to the White House, Mr Trump, who is seen not wearing a mask despite still being infectious, questioned if he is now immune to the deadly virus and told Americans “not to be afraid”.
“I learned so much about coronavirus, and one thing that is for certain is don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it,” he said after thanking the staff at Walter Reed Medical Center.
“You’re going to beat it, we have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines – all developed recently.”
The president said when he first arrived at the hospital on Friday (local time) he “did not feel that good”, but was now feeling better than he had “in 20 years”.
Mr Trump immediately ignited a new controversy by declaring that despite his illness the nation should not fear the virus which has killed more than 210,000 Americans, while not wearing a protective mask.
His message alarmed infectious disease experts and suggested the president’s own illness had not caused him to rethink his often-cavalier attitude toward the disease, which had also infected the first lady and several White House aides, including new cases revealed on Monday.
Trump appears to be wincing in pain while he breathes pic.twitter.com/YKhGhu0VN0— Brennan Murphy (@brenonade) October 5, 2020
“We have to be realistic in this: COVID is a complete threat to the American population,” Dr David Nace, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said of Mr Trump’s no-fear comment.
“Most of the people aren’t so lucky as the president” with an in-house medical unit and access to experimental treatments, Dr Nace, an expert on infections in older adults, added.
“It’s an unconscionable message,” Dr Sadiya Khan, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, agreed.
“I would go so far as to say that it may precipitate or worsen spread.”
I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2020
While thousands of people said they were glad the president had recovered well, hundreds of others slammed him for down-playing the pandemic.
Others posted clips of him standing on the White House balcony during which he can reportedly be seen wincing in pain while breathing.
The video comes a day after he made an impromptu visit outside of the hospital to greet supporters from the back of a black SUV that drove around the area.
He defended the stunt in a tweet after he says the media were “upset” with his actions.
Mr Trump’s medical team, which had faced scrutiny over its inconsistent reports on the president’s health, again fronted the media on Monday, saying the president had shown he was well enough to leave.
"He's met or exceeded all hospital discharge criteria... we plan to get him home," Dr Sean Conley said.
However Mr Trump’s swift exit from the facility after just three days will come as a surprise to many, while Dr Conley did admit he “may not be entirely out of the woods yet”.
Mr Trump has been treated with the medication dexamethasone which is normally used in severe cases of COVID-19, with growing concerns his treatment will hamper his desired return to full action weeks from the presidential election.
Trump ‘worried about looking weak’
Sources have told CNN the president is desperate to return to the White House and he believes being in hospital “makes him look weak”.
Mr Trump’s move to greet supporters on Sunday was described as “insanity” by assistant professor of emergency medicine at the George Washington University, Dr James Phillips.
“Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theatre,” he wrote on Twitter.
Dr Phillips said there was a high chance those inside the vehicle would contract the virus and said “the irresponsibility is astounding”.
Mr Trump’s medical team stressed on Sunday the personal protective equipment of those inside the vehicle was sufficient to avoid infection.
Virus spreads through Trump’s administration
Mr Trump’s move back to the White House will raise further questions on his commitment to stopping the virus’s spread amongst his administration, especially after press secretary Kayleigh McEnany revealed she too had contracted the virus as well as two of her deputies.
Ms McEnany has routinely spoke to the press without a mask and says her decision to not wear one is a “personal” one as opposed to a political statement.
The White House has not listed any members of the press as close contacts.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.