02:14 - Source: CNN
Trump downplays threat of coronavirus in the US
Washington CNN  — 

Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer said Thursday that President Donald Trump “has already blown” the US response to the global spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The President has already blown this. He is very, very late,” the businessman told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”

“The first announcement of this publicly was at the end of December of last year. We’re at the end of February and he’s starting to focus on this and honestly, that is way too late.”

Steyer’s comments came after Trump held a news conference Wednesday night in which he placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the US government response amid growing criticism of the White House’s handling of the outbreak. The President repeatedly defended the White House’s response, stressing the administration’s ongoing efforts and resources devoted to combating the virus.

“Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump said.

But Steyer on Thursday emphasized that Trump “should have been on this months ago.”

“He should have been sending scientists to China. He should have been working to develop a vaccine. He should have been working with the National Institutes of Health.

“This is a guy who thinks that this is a problem for his reelection and he thinks it’s a problem for the economy and he’s right in both cases,” he said. “But let’s be clear. He’s the President of the United States. His job is to protect the health and safety of American citizens first and foremost, and he’s failed in his basic duty.”

“This is a clear example of Mr. Trump’s incompetence, deep incompetence, and we’re watching it real time,” Steyer continued.

Speaking at a CNN town hall in South Carolina earlier this week, Steyer said that as president he would mandate that Americans get vaccinated against the coronavirus if a vaccine were developed and it were necessary to prevent the disease from spreading in the US.

“If and when they were to develop a vaccine, if you were president, would you mandate that Americans take the vaccine?” CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Steyer.

“If it were necessary to take the vaccine to prevent the spread of the coronavirus through the United States, yes, I would,” the billionaire businessman responded.

The death toll from the novel coronavirus has risen to 2,800 worldwide, with the vast majority of those in mainland China. The number of global cases stands at more than 82,000. World Health Organization officials say it’s still too early to declare the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic – but that now is the time to prepare.

CNN’s Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.