United States President Donald Trump on Wednesday admitted that he deliberately downplayed the coronavirus crisis earlier this year even though he was aware it was “deadly” and vastly more serious than a seasonal flu, BBC reported. Trump claimed he gave the wrong picture because he did not want to create panic.

“I don’t want people to be frightened, I don’t want to create panic, as you say, and certainly I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy,” he told reporters at a White House briefing. “We want to show confidence, we want to show strength.”

He was responding to a question on an upcoming book by journalist Bob Woodward, which has revealed that Trump knew more about the severity of the coronavirus than he had indicated, CNN reported. “This is deadly stuff,” Trump said on February 7 in one of a series of interviews Woodward conducted with the president for his upcoming book, Rage. Parts of the interviews between Trump and the journalist were released in the US media on Wednesday.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” the president had said at the time, according to Woodward’s book. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”

But later that month, Trump told the public that the virus was “very much under control”. During his trip to India on February 25, Trump said that the novel virus was “a problem that’s going to go away”. In March, he publicly implied that the flu was more dangerous than Covid-19.

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19, after the White House declared the pandemic a national emergency. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

He also acknowledged the coronavirus threat to young people. “Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out,” Trump said, according to the book. “It’s not just old, older. Young people too, plenty of young people.”

Publicly, however, Trump has continued to claim the opposite. On August 5, he claimed that children were “almost immune” to the disease.

In the first week of April, when the US became the worst-affected country in the world, Trump was still downplaying the virus publicly, claiming that it would soon go away. “I said it’s going away and it is going away,” he had said at a briefing on April 3. But on April 5, Trump again told Woodward that the coronavirus “was a horrible thing”.

Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic opponent, said that “while a deadly disease ripped through our nation, [the president] failed to do his job” on purpose. “It was a life or death betrayal of the American people,” Biden said.

The United States has remained the country worst affected by the pandemic, with 63,59,313 cases, including 1,90,784 deaths as of Thursday, according to to Johns Hopkins University. Globally, the coronavirus has infected more than 2.77 crore people and claimed 9,01,050 lives.