Former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday took aim at President Donald Trump’s handling of the growing coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., urging elected leaders to follow the recommendations of public health professions and unveiling his own plan to combat the spread of the disease.
“We will lead by science. ... Downplaying it, being overly dismissive, or spreading misinformation is only going to hurt us and further advantage the spread of the disease,” Biden said in an address from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. “But neither should we panic — or fall back on xenophobia.”
The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination sought to project calm and stability amid a global pandemic that has disrupted the lives of Americans and threatened an economic recession. It followed Trump’s error-laded Oval Office address on Wednesday night, which caused confusion at home and abroad when the president misstated several of his administration’s policies aimed at addressing the outbreak, including a ban on some travel from European countries.
Biden said that labeling COVID-19 a “foreign virus,” as Trump called it in his address, “does not displace the accountability for the misjudgments that have taken place so far by the Trump administration.”
“The coronavirus doesn’t have a political affiliation. It will not discriminate on national origin, race, or zip code. It will touch people in positions of power, as well as the most vulnerable in society,” Biden said.
Sanders is also scheduled to deliver his own remarks on the virus on Thursday.
The coronavirus pandemic and Trump’s handling of it has become a major issue in the campaign ― and altered the logistics of the presidential campaign. Biden and his primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), canceled rallies in recent days due to the growing outbreak. Biden is scheduled to hold “virtual” events on Friday.
Meanwhile, the location of the much-anticipated one-on-one debate between Biden and Sanders was changed by the Democratic National Committee on Thursday because of coronavirus concerns. Originally scheduled to take place in Arizona ― which holds a primary on Tuesday ― it now held in a studio in Washington “in order to reduce cross-country travel,” the DNC announced.
It also will no longer feature a live audience and there will be no “spin room” ― the gathering place for journalists to hear from campaign officials after the face-off.
In the U.S., the rapidly expanding global pandemic has already killed dozens and infected at least 1,200 people. States and localities are reporting major problems with the availability of testing for the disease, a crucial step toward reducing its spread. Infections have continued to grow, prompting dramatic measures in some states with community outbreaks, including the closure of college campuses, cancellation of sporting events, and some bans on large gatherings.
Biden disputed that assertion in his speech, saying the administration’s “failure on testing is colossal.” He called for more public health funding, more hospital beds to deal with the coming influx of patients, emergency paid leave for workers sidelined by the coronavirus and far more mobile testing sites across the country.
He said the White House should also report the number of tests conducted in the country to the public every day.
“Anyone that needs to be tested should be tested at no charge,” Biden said.
“No president can promise to prevent future outbreaks,” he added. “But when I’m president we will be better prepared. ... I’ll always tell you the truth. This is the responsibility of the president.”
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