US president Donald Trump has defended his handling of coronavirus, suggesting that the US response to the pandemic is admired throughout the world.
Speaking in the White House on Friday as he hosted Republican members of Congress, Mr Trump said he had spoken with German chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and other leaders in recent days.
“Almost all of them view us as the world leader and they’re following us,” he said.
Mr Trump said that nine factories were now building ventilators, and were sending equipment to other countries. He also pointed to the level of testing taking place across America.
“They want to know what we are doing . . . you never hear that from the media. What we’re doing is incredible,” he said. Predicting that the third quarter will be a “transition” period for the US economy, he said: “What we’ve done has been incredible, we’re going to continue to do so . . . we’re going into transition. I call it transition to greatness . . . We’re going to have a phenomenal year next year,” pointing to a “tremendous pent-up demand”.
His comments come as the death toll in the United States passed 76,000 – the highest death toll in the world.
New data released on Friday also showed the dire impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on the economy. The official unemployment rate hit 14.7 per cent in April – the highest rate since the Great Depression.
Some 20.5 million people lost their jobs last month, according to figures from the labour department.
It compares to an unemployment rate of 4.4 per cent in March and 3.5 per cent in February.
A breakdown of the figures shows that the hospitality industry was particularly affected, with the sector shedding 7.7 million jobs last month. Some 2.1 million jobs were lost in retail, while the figure was 1.3 million in the manufacturing sector.
Mr Trump downplayed the new job numbers. “Those jobs will all be back, and they’ll be back very soon,” he said as news of the numbers broke during a morning phone-in interview with TV show Fox & Friends.
However, analysts said the data is likely to underestimate the unemployment rate as many of the surveys used were conducted in early April.
As the number of cases of coronavirus continued to rise it emerged that a second staff member working at the White House tested positive for coronavirus. An aide to Mike Pence was found to have contracted the disease on Friday. The development delayed the departure of Air Force Two from Washington to Iowa on Friday as some members of Mr Pence's staff were forced to disembark.
The development comes a day after it was confirmed that a valet to Mr Trump tested positive for Covid-19. The president played down the news, noting that he is tested on a daily basis. However, he confirmed on Friday that he has not yet taken an antibody test to determine if he is immune from Covid-19.
Mr Trump also hit out at the FBI several times on Friday following the unexpected decision by the Department of Justice to drop charges against Michael Flynn, the president's first national security adviser, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russian ambassador.
During his Fox News interview, Mr Trump denounced the FBI leadership that pursued the Russian investigation as "dirty cops – horrible people. Hopefully they will pay a big price." He also voiced uncertainty about the future of current FBI director Christopher Wray, whom he appointed. "Let's see what happens with him . . . the jury's still out."