President Donald Trump attempted to downplay the coronavirus pandemic by saying it affects “elderly people with heart problems and other problems.”

“That’s what it really affects,” Trump said during a campaign rally in Ohio on Monday. “That’s it.” 

Trump also falsely claimed the virus doesn’t really affect anyone below the age of 18.

“In some states, thousands of people, nobody young… they have a strong immune system, who knows,” he said. “But it affects virtually nobody. It’s an amazing thing.”

According to official US figures, some 400,000 people under the age of 18 have been infected with the coronavirus. While many cases were mild or even without symptoms, at least 576 patients under the age of 18 were hospitalised for the infection between March and July. 

More than 200,000 people in the US have died in the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The president’s comments also contradicted his own past statements.

It’s turning out it’s not just old people,” Trump told journalist Bob Woodward in March in comments that were only recently made public. “Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old – older. Young people, too. Plenty of young people.”

In public, however, Trump has continued to spend much of the pandemic trying to downplay the virus. In February, he predicted the number of cases “within a couple of days” would be “down to close to zero.” More recently, Trump has tried to dismiss cases in “blue” states. 

“The blue states had tremendous death rates,” Trump said last week. “If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at, we’re really at a very low level.”

Joe Biden, former vice president and Trump’s opponent in the US election, took the opposite approach when asked about the climbing death toll, warning against becoming numb to the news. 

“We can’t lose the ability to feel the sorrow and the loss and the anger for so many lives lost,” Biden said in Wisconsin on Monday. “We can’t let the numbers become statistics, a background noise, just a blur that we see on the nightly news.”

Biden said the Covid-19 deaths weren’t just numbers but “empty chairs at dining room tables and kitchen tables that weeks and months ago were filled with a loved one, a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister.” 

On social media, Trump’s critics zeroed in on his use of the phrase “virtually nobody” as both callous and inaccurate:

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