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” while ignoring the advice of experts.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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

The former vice president’s early afternoon speech came a little more than 16 hours after Trump made his own national address from the White House. It was intended to portray Biden as a steady, experienced hand in the face of a public health crisis, aides said.

Trump announced a 30-day ban on travel to the United States from Europe on Wednesday 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 up to 7.4% in morning trading as the benchmark S&P 500 .SPX and the Nasdaq .IXIC indexes cratered into 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 on Tuesday.

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

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 from Arizona to CNN’s studio in Washington.

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 rally in Tampa, Florida, on March 25.

“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 and would keep pushing for his economic and social justice agenda.

Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio hold nominating contests on Tuesday.

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Despite his recent losses, Sanders said his anti-corporate economic agenda was gaining support from young people, who he called the future of the country. But he acknowledged that many Democratic voters still believe Biden has the best chance of beating Trump, 73.

“While our campaign has won the ideological debate, we are losing the debate over electability,” he told reporters on Wednesday in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont.

Sanders’ losses on Tuesday, coming after a series of Biden wins in last week’s Super Tuesday contests, put him in a deeper hole in the delegate count. Biden leads Sanders 786-645 in the race for the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination at July’s Democratic convention.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and John Whitesides in Washington; Writing by John Whitesides and Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney, Jonathan Oatis and Bernadette Baum

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