US President Donald Trump has revealed he “possibly didn’t” get tested for COVID-19 before his first clash with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden
When pressed on whether he tested on the day of the debate – which had been agreed upon as a condition ahead of the event – Mr Trump gave a rambling answer in which he responded “I don’t even remember”, “I don’t know”, “I probably did” and “possibly I did, possibly I didn’t”.
When asked if he is tested every day, Mr Trump responded “no”.
Chris Wallace, the moderator of the first event, has previously confirmed Mr Trump arrived too late in Cleveland to get tested ahead of the debate.
Mr Trump returned a positive result for coronavirus two days later.
The Fox news host verified there was an “honour system” for the two campaigns to have arrived having already tested negative.
Mr Trump’s admission came as he and Mr Biden held duelling televised town hall events.
Amid the backdrop of an ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 217,000 Americans, the adversaries appeared on split screens.
Mr Biden, speaking to voters in Philadelphia on ABC, sought to put Mr Trump’s handling of the pandemic front and centre, blaming the Republican president for playing down the virus that has infected eight million Americans, including the President himself.
“He said he didn’t tell anybody because he was afraid Americans would panic,” Mr Biden said on ABC. “Americans don’t panic. He panicked.”
Mr Trump defended both his response to the pandemic as well as his own personal conduct, including staging a Rose Garden event at the White House where few wore masks or practised social distancing, which resulted in numerous attendees contracting the disease.
“Hey, I’m President – I have to see people, I can’t be in a basement,” Mr Trump said on NBC in front of an outdoor audience of voters in Miami, implicitly criticising Mr Biden for spending months off the campaign trail as the pandemic raged.
Mr Trump, who aggressively interrupted Mr Biden during a chaotic debate two weeks ago, showed little interest in altering his belligerent tone.
He said he “heard different stories” about the efficacy of masks, even though his own administration’s public health experts have said wearing them is key to stopping the spread of the virus.
Mr Trump also declined to denounce QAnon, the false conspiracy theory that Democrats are part of a global pedophile ring, first praising its adherents for opposing pedophilia before saying he knew nothing about the movement.
Mr Trump’s reluctance to criticise the theory came as YouTube announced it is following the lead of Twitter and Facebook, taking more steps to limit QAnon and other baseless conspiracy theories.
The second presidential debate had been scheduled for Thursday but Mr Trump pulled out of the event after organisers decided to turn it into a virtual affair following his diagnosis two weeks ago. A final debate is still scheduled for October 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Mr Trump, who spent three days in a military hospital but has since returned to the campaign trail, is trying to alter the dynamics of the race. Reuters/Ipsos polls show Mr Biden has a significant national lead, although his advantage in battleground states is less pronounced.
About 18.3 million Americans have voted either in person or by mail so far, representing 12.9 per cent of the total votes counted in the 2016 general election, according to the US Elections Project at the University of Florida.
Voters are seeking to avoid queues on election day to stay safe as coronavirus infections and hospitalisations continue to rise but also to make sure their ballots will count. Many are concerned Trump will challenge widely used mail-in ballots after his repeated claims without evidence that they were fraudulent.
Mr Trump’s narrow 2016 victory depended in large part on late-deciding swing voters. But Reuters/Ipsos polling conducted from Friday to Tuesday shows there are far fewer undecided likely voters this year – about eight per cent – and they are just as likely to pick Mr Biden as they are Mr Trump.
Both candidates have visited battleground states this week, with Mr Trump holding rallies in Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa and Biden travelling to Ohio and Florida.
The Biden campaign said on Thursday that three people who travelled with either Biden or Senator Kamala Harris, Mr Biden’s running mate, had tested positive for COVID-19.
A top Harris aide was among those who tested positive but the campaign said she had not been in close contact. Nevertheless, Ms Harris cancelled her travel plans through the weekend as a precaution.
Mr Biden had also been on a plane with an aviation company employee who tested positive but was not in close contact, his campaign said, and his travel schedule would remain unchanged.