US intelligence agencies repeatedly warned President Donald Trump about the threat of the novel coronavirus outbreak in more than a dozen classified briefings earlier this year, according to the Washington Post.
In a report published on Monday, the US newspaper cited current and former US officials, who revealed that Trump had been alerted in January and February, even as he continued to downplay the threat of the contagion that was first reported in China in December.
The repeated warnings were included in the president’s daily brief, which for weeks tracked the worldwide spread of the virus, raising the alarm about its potential consequences, the Post said.
One official told the US newspaper that by mid to late January, the coronavirus was being mentioned more frequently as one of the report’s core articles or as an “executive update”.
The first case of coronavirus in the US was reported on January 21 and entry to travellers from China was blocked on February 2.
As cases rose, travel from Europe was banned on March 11 and Trump declared a national emergency two days later.
Trump has faced increased scrutiny over his response to the outbreak in the US, which is nearing a million confirmed coronavirus cases as of Tuesday.
The US also has the world’s highest coronavirus death toll with more than 56,000 fatalities.
The Republican president has looked to shift the blame and attacked China as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) for their handling of the coronavirus.
Subsequently, Trump cut funding to the UN health agency – a step criticised by the UN and other world leaders.
A White House spokesman disputed claims that Trump was slow to take measures against the pandemic.
“President Trump rose to fight this crisis head-on by taking early, aggressive historic action to protect the health, wealth and well-being of the American people,” Hogan Gidley told the Post.
“We will get through this difficult time and defeat this virus because of his decisive leadership.”
An official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which is responsible for the president’s daily briefs, dismissed the repeated warnings as “not true”, without elaborating.