China lashed out at Donald Trump Tuesday, claiming the U.S. president is using 'witchcraft' to lead during the coronavirus pandemic after he admitted to taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent contracting the disease.
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China Communist Party's official publication, Global Times, blamed Trump for the high number of U.S. deaths from coronavirus, claiming the White House would be 'burned down' by the public if it were China.
'President Trump is leading the US's struggle against pandemic with witchcraft, and as a result, more than 90,000 people have died,' Hu wrote Tuesday in a now-deleted tweet. 'If it were in China, the White House would have been burned down by angry people.'
The editor of the governing publication is close with Chinese leadership.
Hu's comments came after Trump said Monday that he takes unproven antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventative measure.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday morning that the president shared his personal health information because he wants to be 'transparent' with Americans.
'The president just wanted to be transparent about his personal health decision that he made in consultation with his doctor,' McEnany told Fox & Friends, adding others should only take the Malaria drug if they are prescribed it by their doctors.
'First, let me emphasize strongly that any use of hydroxychloroquine has to be in consultation with your doctor – you have to have a prescription,' she said. 'That's the way it must be done.'
'That being said, I talked to the FDA commissioner this morning, Stephen Hahn, he said hydroxychloroquine has been approved for three other uses, we have a lot of information about the safety of this drug,' the new press secretary asserted. 'Though, ultimately, you make that decision with your doctor.'
McEnany slammed networks other than Fox News for 'misreporting' that hydroxychloroquine is too dangerous to take as a treatment for coronavirus.
'So some of the misreporting on other networks… ignore the fact that tens of millions of people around the world have used this drug for other purposes,' she argued. 'Including some people in my communications office who used it for Malaria prophylactics before traveling to other parts of the world.'
Trump's revelation that he is taking the drug sparked immediate criticism, including from Nancy Pelosi who said the 'morbidly obese' president is putting his health at risk.
MSNBC morning show host Joe Scarborough, who often publicly feuds with Trump, asserted that the president is lying about taking hydroxychloroquine.
'But when the president of the United States actually says he's doing something which, let me assure you, he is not doing — let me assure you, the president of the United States is not taking hydroxychloroquine,' he said during Morning Joe on Tuesday.
'In all the time that I knew him, I only sat for one meal with him,' Scarborough said. 'Before that meal, he had wipes like this high and would go through the wipes, compulsively, and wipe his hands, sanitize his hands before eating anything.'
'So he is not taking something that his own administration has said will kill you,' he continued. 'That his own FDA said will kill you. That the [Department of Veterans Affairs] said will kill you. ... That's what doctors will say, too. The FDA said, take it if you're in the hospital or take it if you're in a closely watched clinical trial. But, don't take it unless you're under those two circumstances.'
'So the president is not taking it, and yet, and yet, he's telling Americans that they should take it,' Scarborough asserted in claiming the president is lying.
Trump, 73, said Monday that he started taking the medication 'a couple of weeks ago' because 'good things are being said about it' helping coronavirus patients.
He has previously touted hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus 'cure', but the FDA has warned the drug - which is typically used to treat malaria - has a range of possibly lethal side-effects and has not been proven as an effective COVID-19 treatment.
Several studies are underway into the drug's effectiveness in treating coronavirus and whether it can also protect against the disease, but so far there is no clear evidence it is beneficial.
Following Trump's admission, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among a host of doctors and politicians who branded the move irresponsible.
She told CNN: 'He's our president and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists. Especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group, what is morbidly obese, they say. So, I think that it's not a good idea.'
However, a memo released by the White House shows that physician Dr Sean Conley discussed the drug with Trump and concluded that the potential benefits of taking it outweighed the risks.
Trump's spokeswoman later told the New York Times that the president had been prescribed the drug and has been taking it, after Dr Conley's note left some doubt.
The president said he does not have the virus, which has infected 1.53 million Americans and killed more than 90,000.
But speaking at the White House during an event with restaurant workers he said: 'I'm taking it - hydroxychloroquine. Right now yeah. A couple of weeks ago, started taking it.'
Trump did not say what prompted him to start taking the drug, though it comes after several White House staffers were diagnosed with coronavirus.
The Food and Drug Administration warned in April that hydroxychloroquine can significantly increase the risk of death in people, especially those with heart problems, and cautioned against its use.
A study of 150 patients published in peer-reviewed medical journal The BMJ this month found the drug did not significantly improve outcomes for coronavirus patients, but did induce potentially-serious side effects in a third of those taking it.
Hope was sparked early on in the crisis when an early French study suggested the drug could have both antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects.
It triggered a flurry of research across the world, an endorsement from Trump and emergency authorization from US regulators.
But other research has dealt a blow to the drug, with one Chinese trial last month finding it did not speed up the recovery of COVID-19 patients.
And New York researchers last week said patients got no benefits whether they took just the drug or paired it with the antibiotic azithromycin.
Leading doctors have warned the drug can cause severe side effects, and can even throw off the process that makes the heart beat in time – and one trial in Brazil was stopped short because so many of the enrolled coronavirus patients given the drug developed these arrhythmias.
The president has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine - used to treat malaria, lupus and other diseases - and the antibiotic azithromycin, often referred to as 'Z-pack,' to be used to treat the coronavirus.
Trump said he took one dose of the z-pack antibiotic and is now taking a zinc supplement along with a daily hydroxychloroquine pill. He noted he's had no side effects.
'I'm taking the two - the zinc and the hydroxy,' he said. 'So far I seem to be okay.'
'I have been taking it for about a weekend for about a week and a half,' he noted. 'Every day. I take a pill every day.'
'At some point I'll stop,' he added.
Pelosi was not the only figure who reacted strongly to Trump's public announcement.
Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto warned his viewers that the drug 'will kill you' if you are in an at-risk group.
'If you are in a risky population here, and you are taking this as a preventative treatment to ward off the virus, or in a worse-case scenario you are dealing with the virus and you are in this vulnerable population, it will kill you.' he said.
'I cannot stress enough. This will kill you,' Cavuto, who suffers from MS and is immunocompromised, said. That prompted Trump to furiously tweet that he was 'looking for a new outlet' because of the number of 'anti-Trump people' on the network.
White House physician, Dr Conley noted: 'After numerous discussions, he and I regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded the potential benefit from the treatment outweighed the relative risk.'
'In consultation with our inter-agency partners and subject matter experts around the country, I continue to monitor the myriad studies investigating COVID-19 therapies and I anticipate employing the same shared medical decision making based on the evidence at hand in the future,' he said.
Conley, a commander in the U.S. Navy, noted President Trump is 'in very good health and has remained symptom-free. He receives regular COVID-19 testing, all negative to date.'
Trump said he started taking the drug after talking with Conley. 'He said well if you'd like it. I said yeah I'd like it, I'd like to take it,' Trump said.
The president shrugged off warnings about the side effects of hydroxy issued by the FDA and the National Institutes of Health.
Both medical organizations note the drug is only approved for the use of patients in hospitals who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
'You're not going to get sick or die,' he said about taking the medication. 'I've taken it about for a week and a half now. And I'm still here.'
He said he's heard 'a lot of good stories' about the drug.
'I've heard a lot of good stories. And if it is not good, I will tell you right. I'm not going to get hurt by it. It has been around for 40 years for malaria, for lupus, for other things. I take it,' Trump said.
'I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this,' he told the assembled media.
This is not the first time that Trump has touted potentially-lethal treatments for coronavirus.
Last month he was heavily criticised after questioning whether injecting patients with disinfectant could potentially cure the virus.
He also asked whether exposing the body to high-intensity ultraviolet light, which is commonly used to disinfect hospital wards after exposure to coronavirus, could also help people.
'You're going to have to use medical doctors. But it sounds interesting to me,' he said.
Medical doctors have since warned that both methods would quickly kill patients.
At least two White House staffers tested positive for the coronavirus this month, both of whom had access to the president: his Navy valet who serves him meals and Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary Katie Miller, who speaks for the Coronavirus Task Force and is married to Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller.
After the outbreak, new safety protocols were put into effect at the White House, including daily testing of senior staff who get close to the president. Additionally, staff and Secret Service agents have started wearing face masks around the complex, where close working conditions make social distancing impossible.
Trump last underwent a partial checkup in a November visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that was not on his public schedule. He has said in March he would complete his physical in the next 90 days.
At his last physical Trump weighed 243 pounds, which is considered obese for a man of his reported height of 6 feet 3 inches. Past reports said he's taking rosuvastatin, a lipid-lowering drug, to control his cholesterol.
The president has touted his love of steak and fast food. His only exercise is golf, which has been on hold since early March as the coronavirus pandemic causes courses to be closed.
Hydroxy has potentially serious side effects, including altering the heartbeat in a way that could lead to sudden death, and the FDA has warned against its use for coronavirus infections except in formal studies.
'Although there is anecdotal evidence that hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin may benefit people with COVID-19, we need solid data from a large randomized, controlled clinical trial to determine whether this experimental treatment is safe and can improve clinical outcomes,' Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and head of the NIH, said last week.
Trump dismissed studies that claim hydroxychloroquine is not effective, and rather dangerous, complaining that they were done by the Veterans Administration, where he does not have a lot of supporters.
'Here's my evidence. I get a lot of positive calls about it. The only negative I heard -- was at the VA? People that aren't big Trump fans,' he said.
'If you look at that phony report that was put - in that report or the hydroxy was given to people that were an extraordinarily bad condition, extraordinary bad people that were dying. No, I think for whatever it's worth I take I was,' he said.
Trump also said he has 'zero symptoms' of the coronavirus, is tested daily and has tested negative.
'Totally negative, no symptoms, no nothing,' the president said.
He did not mention a name but the description fits that of Vladimir Zelenko, a New York doctor who has promoted hydroxy as a coronavirus treatment and has been touted by Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Trump's enthusiasm for hydroxy was based on a French study of 20 patients in March that showed the drugs might work against the virus. But many scientists have questioned the methods that study and one from China used, saying more research on the drug was needed.
Trump has repeatedly touted stories he's heard of hydroxy's effect on those with the coronavirus.
In early April, he talked about Michigan State Rep. Karen Whitsett, who he saw on Ingraham's show the previous evening talking about her experience with the drug.
'A woman last night, I watched her on one of the shows, good show, Laura, and she thought she was dead. She was a representative from Michigan. She was just in horrible shape for 12 days, 14 days. She thought she was dead. I think she said that her doctor said it's going to be very tough. She saw me talking about this and she asked her husband to go to the drugstore. This is a Democrat representative, a person that you know perhaps wouldn't be voting for me. I think she will be voting for me now even if she's a Democrat,' he said.
'She asked her husband, she said please go out. I'm not going to make it. You have to hear her story. Please go out and get it. He went at 10:00 in the evening to the drugstore and he got it. He gave it to her. I don't say it works like this but four hours later she woke and she said I feel better. And then shortly thereafter she felt great,' the president said.
Ingraham met with Trump in the Oval Office to tout the drug. Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, has been an advocate of hydroxy.
Trump repeatedly has advocated for hydroxychloroquine to be used as a treatment option for the coronavirus even as many medical officials - including Dr. Tony Fauci, who sits on the White House Coronavirus Task Force - have urged a more cautious approach, noting the lack of reputable scientific studies on hydroxychloroquine.
And, in early April, during an impromptu White House press briefing Trump stopped Fauci from answering a question from a reporter about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine.
When reporters tried to get Fauci's opinion on the drug – after he previously warned against seeing the malaria medication as a wonder drug – Trump stepped in and stopped the question.
'We're starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. And hopefully in the not-too-distant future we'll be very proud of the job we all did,' Trump said, instead of letting Fauci answer.