US president Donald Trump has tweeted a photo of himself wearing a face covering, as he sought to take centre stage over the American government’s coronavirus response.
Mr Trump called wearing a mask an act of patriotism, following months of resistance to being publicly seen in the coverings which are deemed vital to slowing the spread of the virus.
We are United in our effort to defeat the Invisible China Virus, and many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you canât socially distance. There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President! pic.twitter.com/iQOd1whktN— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 20, 2020
In the tweet, he also referred to the coronavirus as the “Invisible China Virus”.
The president’s response comes after a White House debate over how best to deploy its greatest and most volatile asset – him – played out in public with his poll numbers faltering.
One week after a 2020 election campaign shake-up, the plan is for Mr Trump to again become a regular public presence at the podium as confirmed coronavirus cases spike across America.
Trump advisers have stressed the urgency of the president adopting a more disciplined public agenda in an effort to turn around his lagging poll numbers against Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of the presidential election in the autumn.
“I think it’s a great way to get information out to the public,” Mr Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Monday, saying he hopes to discuss progress on vaccines and therapeutics.
His once-daily appearances behind the White House briefing room podium largely ended in late April after the president’s off-the-cuff suggestion that injecting toxic disinfectant could help treat the coronavirus.
White House insiders have said the format, venue and frequency of the president’s forthcoming appearances have not been finalised.
And it is not clear whether he would field questions or share the stage with others, including US vice president Mike Pence and doctors Deborah Birx or Anthony Fauci.
But it all points to an apparent course reversal. For months, Mr Trump had heeded aides who pushed for him to all but ignore the virus and instead focus on the economy and more politically advantageous terrain.
Mr Trump will use the briefings “to speak directly to the American people about the federal government’s coronavirus response and other pertinent issues”, said White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews.
The return to briefings has been championed in the West Wing by senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, who advocated publicly last week for Mr Trump to return to the podium to more clearly highlight steps towards economic recovery, but also create a stage to display leadership by addressing Americans’ concerns about Covid-19.
“His approval rating on the pandemic was higher when he was at the podium,” Ms Conway said, in a tacit admission of what is largely unspoken aloud by Trump aides: that he is behind in both public and private surveys.
“It was at 51% in March. And I think people want to hear from the president of the United States.
“It doesn’t have to be daily,” she added. “It doesn’t have to be for two hours. But in my view, it has to be.”