President Donald Trump checked out of hospital on Monday after four days of emergency treatment for Covid-19, pulling off his mask the moment he reached the White House and vowing to quickly get back on the campaign trail.
Shortly beforehand, Trump had tweeted that Americans, who have lost nearly 210,000 people to the virus, have nothing to fear.
A series of made-for-TV moments allowed Trump to squeeze the maximum from his medical discharge, starting by exiting alone from the large gold-colored front doors of the Walter Reed military hospital just outside Washington.
Live on television, he then walked in a mask to a limousine, giving the thumb's up, before boarding the nearby Marine One helicopter for the quick flight to the White House -- which he left on Friday after falling ill.
Landing, he walked up the steps onto the South Portico's stately balcony and demonstratively removed his mask, saluting the departing Marine One.
With less than a month until November 3 election day, polls show Trump behind Democrat Joe Biden and left scrambling even harder by his hospitalization to catch up.
The return to the White House was minutely stage managed to show he is physically fit, while a series of striking tweets demonstrated Trump's coming angle of political attack -- that he personally beat Covid and will now lead the country to its own comeback.
"Will be back on the Campaign Trail soon!!!" he said in one tweet.
"Don't be afraid of Covid," he said in another, claiming to be feeling rejuvenated after his illness.
But the 74-year-old Republican's display of bravado came the same day as his own chief spokeswoman tested positive for the virus -- the latest in an outbreak raging within the White House.
And despite his claims to be in good health again, a combination of White House secrecy, conflicting information from officials and the viral spread among his own circle, damaged his credibility.
In a briefing from the hospital, presidential physician Sean Conley said Trump is "back" but also said he would not be "entirely out of the woods" for another week.
It wasn't clear how free Trump will be to move about in the White House's crowded corridors and small office spaces. The facility, however, has a medical team of its own which will monitor the president in case of relapse.
Despite Trump's characteristic claim that Covid-19 should not be of major concern, polls show it is a huge worry for Americans. His widely panned handling of the crisis this year is also reckoned to be the main reason Biden, 77, is surging in polls.
The United States has the biggest reported toll of any country in the global pandemic.
Illustrating the divide between the reality described by health experts and the Trump White House's defiance, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany became the latest to announce a positive test result on Monday.
Other positive cases close to Trump now include his wife Melania, his close aide Hope Hicks, his campaign manager Bill Stepien, two of McEnany's assistants according to US media, and more than half a dozen others from the president's circle both inside and outside the White House.
Beset by revelations that he avoids paying almost any income tax and a slew of other scandals, Trump was already behind Biden when he fell ill.
But the biggest liability in his scramble for a second term was always his handling of the pandemic.
For months, Trump has given the appearance of trying to wish away the catastrophe and get back to his reelection narrative of a strong economy.
Trump now looks poised to try and claim that in getting quickly out of hospital he has personally vanquished the virus -- and will go on to do the same for the rest of the country.
An unofficial White House themed gift shop announced Monday it will sell a commemorative coin titled "President Donald J. Trump Defeats COVID" for $100.
And in the New York Post, a supportive columnist described Trump as an "invincible hero, who not only survived every dirty trick the Democrats threw at him, but the Chinese virus as well."
Trump retweeted the comments.
For all of Trump's determination to reassert himself, he has already lost several precious days of a campaign that revolves heavily around his large-scale rallies and image of personal strength.
On the day he announced his positive test he had been due to hold a rally in Florida. The next day he was to have flown to another important battleground, Wisconsin, ignoring the fact he was to gather crowds in one of the worst coronavirus hotspots in the country.
Biden meanwhile has maintained his slow-but-steady campaign which has always emphasized health precautions -- a pared-back style that Trump calls weakness and mocked as recently as last week. The Democrat was in Florida on Monday.
The upheaval has led to unusual interest in this Wednesday's televised debate between the vice presidential candidates -- Republican Mike Pence and Biden's pick, Kamala Harris -- who will be separated by a plexiglass barrier for the event.
Copyright AFP. All rights reserved.