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US vote: How coronavirus upturned the campaign

  • Published at 08:36 am November 1st, 2020
Biden and Trump return to US campaign trail
US President Donald Trump speaks at a rally held at Pitt-Greenville Airport, in Greenville on October 15, 2020 AFP

US set a new high for coronavirus cases confirmed in a single 24-hour period on Friday, reporting just over 100,000 new infections

Covid-19 has not only wreaked havoc on the US presidential election schedule -- it has dominated the campaign.

AFP looks back at some of the moments when the pandemic upended the contest, including Donald Trump’s hospitalization and how the party conventions became virtual events.

March: Biden goes quiet

The pandemic robs Democratic candidate Joe Biden of one of his key attributes: a personal connection with voters.

For two months he confines himself at home, in his basement in Delaware.

His Republican opponent and incumbent Donald Trump derides him as "Sleepy Joe" and his campaign accuses Biden of "hiding" in his basement.

But Biden stresses he is taking the kinds of precautions necessary, and his approach later proves to be a stark contrast with Trump's -- who will be harshly criticized for his downplaying of the illness.

June: Trump's indoor rally

Looking to revive his campaign, Trump holds a large rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20. It is the first indoor political rally since the start of the pandemic and is widely criticised.

The discovery of six positive cases in the organizing team on the morning of the rally does not deter the plan to hold it. 

Participants have their temperatures checked and masks are distributed, but the majority of those attending the rally do so with their faces uncovered.

Weeks after the rally, cases jump in Tulsa and local health officials say it is "more than likely" that major events are a contributing factor. 

August: Virtual conventions

On August 20, the Democratic convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is cut down to a two-hour event involving Zoom, video clips and pre-recorded messages followed by silence, when usually there would be cheers and applause from thousands of participants.

On August 25, keen to upstage his opponent, Trump appears in person to inaugurate the Republican convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

But after long resisting any change to conventions as big festive occasions, Trump finally accepts a broadly virtual format, with the exception of his appearance on the opening day.

September: 200,000 dead

On September 22, the US marks a grim milestone: topping 200,000 virus deaths. 

"Due to Donald Trump's lies and incompetence in the past six months, (we) have seen one of the gravest losses of American life in history," charges Biden.

Trump insists the US is already "rounding the corner" -- while betting on the swift approval of a vaccine.

October: Trump gets Covid-19

Then, on October 1, a bombshell just one month before the vote: Trump announces he has tested positive for the virus.

The candidate who until then had toured the country and met thousands of supporters, often without facemasks, is hospitalized and his campaign grinds to a halt. 

Trying to turn the president's hospitalization to his advantage, the Trump team claims it gives the Republican candidate first-hand experience of the virus, something Biden does not have. 

In the nine days Trump receives treatment in hospital, Biden is the sole candidate and has the stage to himself and visits some battleground states.

First Lady Melania Trump and the couple's son Barron also are infected, while Biden running mate Kamala Harris briefly puts her campaign on hold when a staffer tests positive.

On October 10, Trump declares himself immune from Covid-19 despite a lack of scientific clarity on the issue.

Eventually, a long list of people connected to the White House contract the virus, from White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany to former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff.

Debate cancelled

After Trump's illness, a second debate between the two candidates scheduled for October 15 is cancelled when the president refuses to participate in a virtual format.

The third and final scheduled debate goes ahead as planned on October 22.

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