Trump shelves rally, visits hotspot Florida with scant mention of virus
MIAMI, USA – President Donald Trump was forced on Friday, July 10, to scrap an election rally, further darkening his mood as he lashed out at China over the coronavirus pandemic while visiting one of the worst-hit US states.
Trump jetted into Florida for a high-dollar campaign fundraiser and other events, ignoring health advice about the dangers of large gatherings to focus on boosting his increasingly shaky re-election prospects in a must-win battleground state. (READ: U.S. posts new record daily virus caseload of more than 65,000)
With polls showing him trailing Democrat Joe Biden, his rival in November's presidential election, Trump has intensified his schedule of public events in order to juice his base.
Eager to get back on the campaign trail after a weeks-long hiatus during which coronavirus cases and hospitalizations spiked in several states, Trump had scheduled a Saturday rally in New Hampshire.
But the White House announced Friday it was being postponed by "a week or two" due to approaching Tropical Storm Fay.
The storm provided a way out of another roiling controversy over health concerns surrounding the event, and the possibility of low interest in tickets.
But the postponement is a blow to Trump's efforts to return to his comfort zone – center stage on the campaign trail – and signal that life and business can begin getting back to normal after four months of crisis.
His last rally, in June in Tulsa, Oklahoma, proved deeply controversial, with most attendees flouting Trump administration guidelines by refusing to wear masks or engage in social distancing despite being indoors.
Coronavirus cases jumped in Tulsa in the weeks after the June 20 rally, and local health officials said it was "more than likely" that major events were a contributing factor.
As he flew to Florida, Trump vented over the origins of the virus and warned of frayed ties with China, where the COVID-19 emerged late last year.
"(The) relationship with China has been severely damaged," he told reporters on Air Force One. "They could have stopped the plague.... They didn't stop it."
The United States is by far the country hardest hit by the virus, with more than 3.1 million confirmed infections and 133,000 dead.
COVID-19 has claimed more than 4,100 lives in Florida, where Republican Governor Ron DeSantis downplayed the outbreak early on but has since been forced to pause reopening.
The Sunshine State was among at least seven that set single-day case records Thursday, alongside Texas, Alabama, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, and Oregon.
Florida and Texas also registered their highest daily death counts -- 120 and 105 respectively.
"The tsunami is here," said Richard Cortez, chief executive of Hidalgo County in south Texas, after 1,274 cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours in the jurisdiction of fewer than 900,000 people.
By way of comparison, Melbourne in Australia, a city of five million, reimposed a lockdown after 191 tested positive in a day.
"As a country, when you compare us to other countries I don't think you can say we're doing great," Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease official, told political analysis website FiveThirtyEight on Thursday.
Trump hit out at the respected scientist, telling Fox News: "Dr Fauci is a nice man, but he's made a lot of mistakes."
Trump's remarks appeared to deepen his public feud with Fauci, who told the Financial Times that despite being a member of Trump's coronavirus task force he has not spoken with the president in more than a month.
Biden, for his part, has repeatedly attacked Trump for incompetently handling the crisis, and he blasted the president's Florida visit.
"With over 232,000 cases in the state and over 4,000 deaths in Florida, it is clear that Trump's response -- ignore, blame others, and distract -- has come at the expense of Florida families," Biden said.
Despite the pandemic raging in Florida, where Trump is planning to hold the Republican National Convention in August, he did not wear a mask, even when greeting supporters at Miami's airport.
Trump was essentially silent on the surge in infections, preferring to meet military and anti-narcotic officials and hold a roundtable with Venezuelan opposition leaders.
"Before (the virus) hit, we were doing really well, and we're still doing very well, but now we're getting back on track," Trump told officials at US Southern Command.
Trump's Florida visit comes as a new ABC News-Ipsos poll found that 67 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Unlike countries in Europe and Asia, the US never emerged from its first wave of COVID-19, and since mid-June has experienced a fresh surge. – Rappler.com