Virus looms over US campaign's final week

·3-min read

US President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden are down to the final full week of campaigning before the November 3 election as surging coronavirus cases and a COVID-19 outbreak within Vice-President Mike Pence's staff keep the focus of the race on the pandemic.

Trump claimed progress in combating the disease even as the United States set records in recent days for daily infections, while Pence forged ahead with campaigning on Sunday despite close aides testing positive.

Biden accused the president of surrendering to the pandemic that has killed about 225,000 people in the United States.

With eight days to go before election day, more than 59.1 million Americans have already voted in person or by mail, a pace of early voting that could lead to the highest turnout rate in more than a century, according to data from the US Elections Project at the University of Florida.

On Monday, the Republican president will head to Pennsylvania, a critical swing state being heavily courted with frequent visits by both candidates. He is set for multiple trips to Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin this week, as well as visits to Nebraska, Arizona and Nevada.

Biden is expected to remain in his home state of Delaware on Monday. He is scheduled to travel to Georgia on Tuesday. The push in the southern state, which went for Trump in 2016 by about five percentage points and has not backed a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992, shows Biden's effort to expand his party's reach as polls show a competitive race in the state.

Despite Biden's solid lead in national opinion polls, the contest in the most critical battleground states such as Florida and Pennsylvania that could decide the outcome appears closer. Biden will be aided with an appearance in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday by former president Barack Obama, under whom he served as vice-president.

The United States has seen its highest number of new COVID-19 cases in the past two days, offering Biden's campaign a chance to remind voters of how Trump and his allies have played down the advice of public health experts to wear masks and observe social-distancing guidelines to combat COVID-19 transmission.

"There's no nation in the world that's recovered like we've recovered," Trump told cheering supporters in New Hampshire on Sunday, many not wearing protective masks.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said on Sunday the administration was "not going to control the pandemic" and was instead focused on vaccines and therapeutics.

Biden called Meadows' remarks an admission "they've given up on their basic duty to protect the American people".

Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, tested positive on Saturday as well as multiple other senior aides. Thite House said the vice-president would press ahead with campaigning.

The outbreak among the vice-president's staff marked the latest White House COVID-19 cases, which have included Trump, first lady Melania Trump, their son, Barron, and numerous aides and associates.