US President Donald Trump salutes after taking off his mask on returning to the White House. Photo: EPA-EFE
Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden spoke out after US President Donald Trump tried to down play his Covid-19 infection, saying he was "not surprised" Trump caught the coronavirus, considering his resistance to social distancing and wearing masks.
“Anybody who contracts the virus by essentially saying ‘masks don’t matter, social distancing doesn’t matter’, I think, is responsible for what happens to them,” Biden said at an NBC News town hall in Miami, moderated by Lester Holt.
Referring to last week’s presidential debate in Cleveland, Biden said that it was “a little disconcerting to look out and see his whole section; no one had masks on,” referring to Trump family members who defied debate audience safety protocols. “I didn’t quite get that.”
Biden’s sharper tone came as Trump left the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Monday night and returned to the White House, trying to project strength despite concern from his own doctors that the president is not fully recovered from Covid-19.
On his return, Trump took off his mask before putting out a Twitter video in which he said that maybe he was “immune” from the virus and played down its dangerousness.
Biden said that he was “happy” that Trump and first lady Melania Trump were apparently on the mend, but he said he was concerned about the president’s sunny message about the virus.
Joe Biden criticised Trump for not following social distancing or mask-wearing procedures and said he "wasn't surprised" Trump caught the virus. Photo: AP
“I hope no one walks away with the message thinking that it is not a problem – it’s a serious problem,” Biden said, citing the more than 210,000 Americans who have been killed by the virus so far.
Addressing anti-maskers more generally, Biden asked them to listen to experts: “What is this macho thing, ‘I’m not going to wear a mask?’ What’s the deal here? … Does it hurt you? Be patriotic, for God’s sake.”
Biden did not criticise the doctors treating Trump, who have come under fire for not giving fuller details about the president’s health and for letting him leave the hospital so soon after displaying serious symptoms. The White House has medical facilities and a full team to care for the president.
“I’m happy it’s available to him,” Biden said of Trump’s care, adding that audience members do not have access to the same level of care Trump did, which included an experimental drug that has not been approved by federal regulators.
Biden also did not criticise the lack of complete detail given about Trump’s health.
“I can understand under certain circumstances relating to national security where every detail would not be made available” during a crisis, Biden said. “Sometimes for a president that (information) would come after the fact. I’m not being critical of the fact that every single detail” wasn’t released for Trump.
But Trump’s decision to enter the White House without a protective mask – and his insistence that Americans should not fear the disease, horrified some doctors.
“I was aghast when he said Covid should not be feared,” said William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, in the US state of Tennessee.
“This is a disease that is killing around a thousand people a day, has torpedoed the economy, put people out of work. This is a virus that should be both respected and feared,” he added.