US President Donald Trump – under fire for labelling Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” – has said Asian Americans should not be blamed for the outbreak.
He said it is “very important that we totally protect” Asian Americans, whom he praised as “amazing people”.
Mr Trump spoke out amid rising reports of verbal and physical attacks on the community amid the pandemic.
Coronavirus is still spreading in the US, which currently has over 42,000 confirmed cases and 533 deaths.
At a White House coronavirus task force news conference on Monday, Mr Trump said: “It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States and all around the world.
“They’re amazing people and the spreading of the virus is not their fault in any way, shape or form.
“They’re working closely with us to get rid of it – we will prevail together.”
Asked by a reporter why he had spoken out after using the term “Chinese virus”, Mr Trump said: “It seems that there could be a little bit of nasty language toward the Asian Americans in our country and I don’t like that at all.
“These are incredible people, they love our country and I’m not going to let it happen.”
A recent study from San Francisco State University found a 50% rise in news articles reporting coronavirus-related discrimination against Asian Americans.
During press conferences last week, Mr Trump used the term “China virus” and “Chinese virus”, rejecting suggestions from reporters that the term was racist.
“It comes from China,” Mr Trump said last week. “It’s not racist at all.”
The World Health Organization has issued guidance against using geographic locations when naming illnesses to avoid “stigmatising certain communities”.
The US is currently in the middle of 15 days of social distancing.
But on the day that Britain announced a national lockdown to combat the virus, Mr Trump announced that America would reopen for business “very soon”.
“We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem,” he told reporters.
Mr Trump said the country had “learned a lot” about social distancing and hand washing.
“We have to open our country because that causes problems that in my opinion could be bigger problems, far bigger,” he added.
“This is a severe medical situation that could cause problems far beyond the medical.”