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President Trump on Tuesday appeared to suggest that the coronavirus pandemic is worse than the Spanish flu pandemic at the end of World War I that killed at least 50 million people, including about 675,000 in the United States.

Speaking at the end of an event touting the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Trump first remarked that the Spanish flu was “the worst of all time,” before going on to suggest that the pandemic “wasn't quite like what we're going through right now.”

“We're going through a period of time, the likes of which we've never seen in this country before,” Trump said from the White House’s East Room. “Certainly even if you go back into 1917, it was the worst of all time, but it was also not as bad.”

He added: “It was a bad one, but it wasn't quite like what we're going through right now.”


Since he began his near-daily press briefings on the COVID-19 public health crisis, the president has continually made reference to the year 1917. While some researchers have theorized that the first appearance of the Spanish flu, or H1N1, came from Chinese laborers mobilized on the Western Front, the pandemic took place between the spring of 1918 and the spring of 1919, with some historians tracing its origins in 1918 to Haskell County, Kan., before spreading to military cantonments readying to go to Europe.

The Spanish flu pandemic, called so because Spain was a neutral nation during WWI and the country’s uncensored press was allowed to report freely on the contagion, is believed to have first cropped up globally in January 1918 with a second, much deadlier strain of the virus striking in the fall of that year.

The 1918 pandemic is believed to have infected 500 million people, or about one-third of the planet’s total population at the time, and killed 50 million.


Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, Trump has continually compared it with the Spanish flu -- either by saying the 1918 outbreak was much worse than COVID-19 or that today’s situation is more dire.

During a virtual town hall with Fox News last month, Trump exaggerated the number of deaths and the mortality rate from the Spanish flu, saying that “close to 100 million people died” and that “if you got it you had a 50/50 chance, or very close, of dying."

While estimates of the mortality rate for the 1918 flu pandemic vary widely given the incomplete records from the period, a 2006 study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC's) Emerging Infectious Diseases journal put the mortality rate from the Spanish flu at between 10 and 20 percent. A 2002 report published in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine did, however, estimate that the number of people who died from the Spanish flu was between 50 and 100 million.