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Trump is still downplaying the coronavirus epidemic

There are now more than 80,000 known cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus worldwide, including at least 35 cases in the U.S., with outbreaks unexpectedly mushrooming in Iran, Italy, and South Korea. President Trump continues to downplay concerns about "the still-mysterious coronavirus — which is hard to detect, poses high risk to the elderly, and may in some cases be transmitted by people who show no symptoms," The Washington Post reports, concerned that fears about the virus could further spook the stock market, which had its worst day in two years on Monday, and harm his re-election prospects.

"The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA," Trump tweeted from India on Monday evening. "We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!" On Tuesday, Trump told reporters in New Delhi that the coronavirus "is very well under control" in the U.S., said researchers are "close" to a developing a vaccine (which won't be available until 2021, at least), and said he believes the the coronavirus is "a problem that's going to go away."

Trump's advisers are aware of the political and economic risks the coronavirus poses, but they are also downplaying them in public. "It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump," Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show Monday. "The coronavirus is the common cold, folks." (It isn't.) Informal Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore told Politico that "the view in the White House is that this is one of those classic black swan events." That drew an exasperated response from Week contributor James Pethokoukis.

Trump has "hollowed out the senior leadership of so many departments of the government — especially in the scientific community," University of Virginia presidential historian Russell Riley tells the Post, "If the markets continue to drop and the medical news gets very bad, then this president is singularly ill-prepared to deal with it in a rational manner."