Donald Trump’s first campaign rally since the pandemic lockdown could be a virus ‘super-spreader’, experts warn, as thousands defy social distancing advice to converge on Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Republican event is set to be the first US indoor gathering of such massive scale in the time of coronavirus, with the arena able to hold 19,000 people.
Long queues are forming outside the venue on Sunday morning (Australian time), with about 100,000 people expected to visit the city of 400,000 residents amid a spike in infections.
Meanwhile six staff who were working on the Tulsa rally have tested positive for COVID-19 and will not attend the controversial event.
Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement to CNN that “per safety protocols, campaign staff are tested for COVID-19 before events”.
“Six members of the advance team tested positive out of hundreds of tests performed, and quarantine procedures were immediately implemented.”
“No COVID-positive staffers or anyone in immediate contact will be at today’s rally or near attendees and elected officials.”
The Trump campaign has asked attendees to sign a waiver absolving organisers of any responsibility if someone should get sick.
Tulsa had the highest increase in coronavirus cases in Oklahoma in recent days and several bordering states, including Arkansas, have seen spikes in community spread of the virus in recent weeks.
Oklahoma set a high for new cases last Thursday, with 450, and Tulsa saw 125 new cases on Friday.
As the world grapples with an “accelerating” pandemic – with the USA suffering the worst outbreak followed by Brazil – Mr Trump’s rally has sparked health concerns.
America has more than 2.2 million infections and almost 120,000 deaths while Brazil is now at more than one million infections and some 49,000 deaths.
Health experts are worried attendees could unknowingly take the virus back to their respective home towns and states, seeding additional outbreaks.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health associate professor of epidemiology Justin Lessler said there was no question that indoor events were more risky than outdoor ones.
Professor Lessler said large events had the potential to be “super-spreader events”, but their ability to drive the pandemic was short-lived.
“The larger factor is what happens when people go home,” he said.
“If everybody goes home and doesn’t respect the social distancing factors and goes out into the community, then they could push the spread.”
Masks and hand sanitiser will be provided but there is no requirement for participants use them.
Attendees will also undergo a temperature check, but there will be no required social distancing at the indoor event.
Trump’s event will be held just blocks from the site of one of the worst racial massacres in US history, and black leaders in Tulsa say they fear the president’s visit could lead to violence.
The Secret Service and National Guard have been deployed to keep the peace.
Mr Trump is due to take to the stage on Saturday night (US time).
Australia virus update
Australia recorded 27 fresh coronavirus cases on Saturday with nearly all of them in Victoria where restrictions will be reimposed.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews blamed family gatherings for driving a surge in cases, the highest in two months.
Statement from the Premier on changes to restrictions in Victoria: pic.twitter.com/AcQxG4clmY
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) June 20, 2020
Victorians will now only be allowed up to five people to gather in the home and 10 people outdoors in a bid to contain the spread, with Mr Andrews warning a few cases could become hundreds in days without measures.
Mr Andrews said more than half the state’s cases since April had been transmitted inside the home.
Only two of Australia’s cases were outside Victoria.
One case was attributed to Western Australia’s but was described as “a historical case” that was no longer active.
NSW had one new diagnosis.
Meanwhile Sunday’s marquee clash between Essendon and Melbourne had been cancelled after Bomber’s Irish import Conor McKenna tested positive.
States rethink opening borders
Victoria’s spike in coronavirus cases could delay the return of full interstate travel, with other states wary of reopening their borders.
Western Australia’s government has maintained its hardline border closure will remain for as long as there is sustained community spread of the virus in the eastern states.
Premier Mark McGowan has refused to put a date on welcoming interstate visitors and is likely to further ease restrictions within WA before opening the border.
South Australia is due to reopen on July 20 but its government is closely monitoring the situation in Victoria and has not ruled out staying closed.
“We will not open our borders to Victoria unless it is safe to do so,” Health Minister Stephen Wade said on Saturday.
“Our number one priority is the health of South Australians.”
Queensland may also choose to keep its border closed despite setting a July 10 re-opening target.
Meanwhile the Northern Territory, which has been declared free of the coronavirus – is inviting visitors.
A new national tourism campaign proclaiming ‘The Territory is the answer’ to Australians’ holiday woes will be launched as of July 17, when the Territory’s borders are set to reopen.
More than 26,000 vouchers worth $200 will be available from July 1 to put towards an experience, tour, accommodation, car hire or recreational fishing charter – but the spend must be matched with a person’s own money.