Democratic presidential hopeful Biden attacks Trump's coronavirus response

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden on Thursday lambasted Republican President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, accusing him of having an “adversarial relationship with the truth” and ignoring scientific advice.

“Unfortunately, this virus laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration,” Biden said in a 20-minute speech delivered from his home state of Delaware.

The former vice president’s afternoon address came a little more than 16 hours after Trump made his own national address from the White House and was intended to give Americans a glimpse of how he would handle an international crisis as president.

Trump announced a 30-day ban on travel to the United States from continental Europe on Wednesday night and promised economic stimulus measures, vowing to contain the pandemic.

But already battered global financial markets plunged again on Thursday. U.S. stock indexes were down more than 7% in afternoon trading, confirming Wall Street is in a bear market.

Biden has taken control of the two-way nominating battle between him and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont after winning at least four of six states in primary contests on Tuesday.

Sanders was planning to make his own speech later on Thursday afternoon to address the coronavirus outbreak.

In a harsh critique of the administration’s response, Biden simultaneously attacked Trump for the actions he has taken while blaming him for not doing more to face the growing crisis.

Noting that Trump had called it a “foreign virus” on Wednesday, Biden warned against “xenophobia” and said the coronavirus “does not discriminate based on national origin, race, gender or ZIP code.”

“Banning all travel from Europe or any other part of the world may slow it, but as we have seen, it will not stop it,” Biden added. “We have to help the world to drive coordinated global strategy, not shut ourselves off from the world.”

Biden also laid out his own plan for dealing with the outbreak, including emergency paid sick leave for workers and widely available free testing for the virus, saying the number of tests should number in the “millions, not the thousands.” The Trump administration has been criticized for failing to produce enough tests to meet demand.

In response, the Trump campaign defended the president’s actions and accused Biden in a statement of trying to “capitalize politically and stoke citizens’ fears.”

The crisis continued to reshape the contours of the presidential campaign. Democratic officials announced on Thursday that Sunday’s televised debate between Biden and Sanders would be moved to Washington from Arizona.

Officials had already decided not to allow a live audience inside the debate hall, citing contagion concerns.

Biden, Sanders and Trump have all canceled campaign events in recent days after warnings from public health officials about holding large-scale gatherings.

Trump, who called off planned events in Nevada and Colorado this week, told reporters on Thursday he was also considering nixing plans for a March 25 rally in Tampa, Florida.

“I think we’ll probably not do it because people would say it’s better to not do,” he said at the White House.

Biden’s campaign on Wednesday converted planned rallies in Florida and Illinois into “virtual” campaign events as the coronavirus outbreak officially became a global pandemic.

The Biden campaign created a committee composed mostly of doctors to advise on how to keep the candidate, staff and voters safe. Sanders’ campaign has said it will address plans on a day-to-day basis.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is a highly contagious respiratory illness. The number of U.S. coronavirus cases has risen steadily to 1,311, with 38 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Sanders, a democratic socialist, said on Wednesday he would stay in the race despite his primary losses to Biden. Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio hold nominating contests on Tuesday.

Following this week’s victories, as well as strong performances in last week’s Super Tuesday contests, Biden leads Sanders in the race for the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination at July’s Democratic convention.

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