President Donald Trump called the coronavirus “Kung flu” during a rally in Oklahoma, employing a slang term that’s been criticized as racist while claiming increased diagnostic testing has driven up U.S. case totals.
The coronavirus outbreak, which has killed at least 119,000 Americans, was a significant talking point at Trump’s first rally in three months in Tulsa’s BOK Center, where attendance badly failed to meet Trump’s promises of a capacity crowd.
The Trump campaign distributed masks to people entering the arena but few in the audience wore them.
Trump complained that he was criticized for risking the health of his supporters by holding his indoor rally, saying that nationwide protests against police brutality this month should have endured similar scrutiny.
“You never hear them saying, ‘they’re not wearing their mask,’” during coverage of the protests, he said. The coronavirus is believed to be much more easily spread indoors at close quarters than outdoors.
The president then mused about the term Covid-19, short for Coronavirus Disease 2019, often used as official shorthand for the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
“That name gets further and further away from China, as opposed to calling it the Chinese virus,” he said.
Trump said that he had “done a phenomenal job” with the U.S. outbreak and “saved hundreds of thousands of lives” by limiting travel from China and Europe as the pandemic spread overseas.
He claimed falsely that the growing U.S. outbreak, the largest in the world, is the result of increased testing for infections.
“Testing is a double-edged sword,” he said. “When you do testing to that extent you’re going to find more people. So I said to my people, slow the testing down.”
There’s no indication that has actually happened, as the number of tests performed nationally have been well over half a million on each of the past two days, according to the Covid Tracking Project, which relies on state data. Total tests administered now exceed 26.5 million.
A White House aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said after Trump’s remarks that the president was speaking in jest when he talked about testing.
Trump later returned to the name of the disease.
“It’s a disease, without question, has more names than any disease in history,” he said. “I can name — Kung Flu. I can name — 19 different versions of names.”
Trump last said the term “Kung Flu,” a pun on the Chinese martial art, at a White House news conference March 18, after a reporter asked whether it was true that an unnamed White House official had used the phrase, and if Trump thought it was wrong.
“No, not at all,” Trump said at the time. But he ceased using the terms “Chinese virus” or “Kung flu” for a time after criticism, resuming only recently as he has sought to pin blame for the U.S. outbreak on the government in Beijing. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has used the term “Wuhan virus” in remarks.
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