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Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro started warning about a deadly pandemic in January, memos show

Peter Navarro, President Trump's trade adviser, wrote memos Jan. 29 and Feb. 23 that warned in stark terms about the deadly and economically costly threats from the coronavirus then ravaging China, Axios and The New York Times report. The Jan. 29 memo said the "risk of a worst-case pandemic scenario should not be overlooked," and such an outbreak could kill up to 543,000 Americans and cost up to $5.7 trillion without containment efforts. His prescription was banning travel with China, which Trump did quickly if only partially.

Navarro's Feb. 23 memo, addressed to Trump, began: "There is an increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls." It suggested immediately asking Congress for "at least $3 billion," in part to stockpile personal protective equipment and ventilators. The memos are "the highest-level alert known to have circulated inside the West Wing" at a crucial time when Trump was publicly downplaying the virus and his administration was gearing up to respond, the Times reports, though it's "unclear" if Trump saw either memo.

Navarro is a strident China hawk, and the memos were viewed through that lens, damping their impact, officials tell the Times. A senior administration official who received Navarro's written warnings told Axios that "the January travel memo struck me as an alarmist attempt to bring attention to Peter's anti-China agenda while presenting an artificially limited range of policy options," and "the supplemental memo lacked any basis for its projections, which led some staff to worry that it could needlessly rattle markets and may not direct funding where it was truly needed." You can read excerpts from the memos at Axios.