WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Donald Trump checked out of hospital on Monday after four days of emergency treatment for Covid-19, pulling off his mask the moment he reached the White House and vowing to quickly get back on the campaign trail.
Shortly beforehand, Trump had tweeted that Americans, who have lost nearly 210,000 people to the virus, have nothing to fear.
A series of made-for-TV moments allowed Trump to squeeze the maximum from his medical discharge, starting by exiting alone from the large gold-coloured front doors of the Walter Reed military hospital just outside Washington.
Live on television, he then walked in a mask to a limousine, giving the thumbs up, before boarding Marine One helicopter for the quick flight to the White House – which he left last Friday after falling ill. After landing, he walked up the steps onto the South Portico’s stately balcony, demonstratively removed his mask and offered a 23-second salute to the departing Marine One.
With less than a month until Election Day on November 3, polls show Trump trailing Democrat Joe Biden. The president’s hospitalisation left him scrambling even harder to catch up.
The return to the White House was minutely stage-managed to show he is physically fit, while a series of striking tweets demonstrated Trump’s coming angle of political attack: that he personally beat Covid and will now lead the country to its own comeback.
“Will be back on the Campaign Trail soon!!!” he said in one tweet.
“Don’t be afraid of Covid,” he said in another, claiming to be feeling rejuvenated after his illness.
The remark startled his rival, who was campaigning on Monday in Florida. “Tell that to the 205,000 families who lost somebody,” Biden snapped. The former vice president added to his comments later on Monday at an outdoor town hall in Miami, where he criticised Trump for downplaying the importance of masks.
“I would hope that the president, having gone through what he went through – and I’m glad he seems to be coming along pretty well – would communicate the right lesson to the American people: masks matter,” Biden said.
That recommendation appeared to go unheeded, as Trump pushed out a new, unfiltered message to Americans, “Don’t let it dominate your life – get out there, be careful,” Trump said in a tweeted video.
The 74-year-old Republican’s display of bravado came the same day that his own chief spokeswoman tested positive – the latest in a viral outbreak raging within the White House.
And despite his claims to be in good health again, a combination of secrecy, conflicting information from officials and the viral spread among his own circle damaged his credibility.
Other positive cases close to Trump now include his wife Melania, aide Hope Hicks, campaign manager Bill Stepien, two of McEnany’s assistants according to US media, and more than half a dozen others from the president’s circle.