Trump tests positive for COVID-19, upending US election

WASHINGTON (AFP) – United States (US) President Donald Trump tested positive for Covid-19, upending the already tense US election, but his doctor said yesterday he was “well” and able to perform his duties while quarantining.

Trump, 74, first announced on Twitter that he and First Lady Melania Trump, 50, tested positive.

“We will get through this TOGETHER!” he wrote.

The news dropped a political bombshell a month before election day.

The first immediate consequence was cancellation of a Trump campaign rally meant to take place in Florida.

Badly behind in the polls against Democratic challenger Joe Biden ahead of November 3, Trump has been using large rallies – where most people go without masks – to try to change the subject from his much criticised response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Just on Thursday he said in a speech to a New York charity event, “The end of the pandemic is in sight and next year will be one of the greatest years in the history of our country.”

But now the leader who repeatedly cast doubt on the seriousness of the virus – despite over 200,000 Americans already dying – became the world’s highest profile patient, proving that the resources of the White House could not prevent the risk.

File photo of US President Donald Trump touring a lab in Morrisville, North Carolina. PHOTO: AFP

Biden, who made criticism of the Republican’s coronavirus response his key issue, made no immediate statement about the president’s health.

World leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel wished the president and first lady a speedy recovery, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying Trump’s “vitality, good spirits and optimism” would help him cope.

Technically obese and in his 70s, Trump is in a higher-risk category for coronavirus patients.

Trump’s official physician Sean Conley said in a statement that the president and his wife “are both well at this time”.

“They plan to remain home at the White House during their convalescence,” he said, adding he expected the president to continue carrying out his duties.

Trump’s positive test was more than a PR disaster for a president who staked everything on trying to persuade Americans that fears of the virus are overblown.

There were instant impacts to his campaign strategy, particularly throwing into doubt the future of his signature rallies.

The events, which Trump said prove his true political strength better than the dismal opinion polls, bring together thousands of people, often without masks and sometimes in contravention of local rules. That is now on hold, at least for the immediate future, and with the clock ticking on the election.

In addition to cancelling the Florida trip, it looked certain Trump would have to abandon a trip scheduled for this weekend in Wisconsin, another battleground. He had also been expected to travel frequently next week, including to western states.

A second televised debate with Biden is scheduled for October 15.