WASHINGTON - The United States presidential contest was thrown into disarray, just 32 days from Election Day, when President Donald Trump announced on Friday (Oct 2) that he and his wife Melania had tested positive for Covid-19.
The President and First Lady are well and plan to remain at home in the White House during their convalescence, with Mr Trump expected to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering, said the President’s physician Sean Conley in a memorandum. The Trumps’ 14-year-old son Barron tested negative.
Mr Trump has mild symptoms but he was expected to remain on the job, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Friday.
Vice-President Mike Pence, who is next in the presidential line of succession should Mr Trump be medically incapacitated, tested also negative together with his wife Karen on Friday morning, his press secretary said.
While the impact of the the diagnosis on the race is uncertain, Mr Trump’s quarantine forces him off the campaign trail for now, a blow to his efforts to drum up support at in-person events at a time when he is trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by seven points nationally.
Mr Trump was due to meet Mr Biden on Oct 15 in Miami, Florida and Oct 22 in Nashville, Tennessee for the second and third presidential debates, which are now up in the air.
Responding on Friday, Mr Biden, who debated Mr Trump at an indoor venue in Cleveland, Ohio on Tuesday, said on Twitter: “(My wife) Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery. We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”
The President’s diagnosis was announced hours after news broke that his close aide Hope Hicks, a former White House communications director who was among Mr Trump’s entourage aboard Air Force One this week, had tested positive for the virus.
“Tonight, (First Lady Melania Trump) and I tested positive for Covid-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter just before 1am (1pm Singapore time).
The President’s public schedule was updated to show that several events on his calendar for Friday had been cancelled, including a roundtable with supporters at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC and a campaign rally in Sanford, Florida.
Mr Trump was still due to host a phone call on Covid-19 support to vulnerable seniors at midday on Friday.
National media outlets raised a flurry of questions, including whether there would be possible disruptions to the election cycle, and even lines of succession should the President and Vice-President be medically incapacitated.
Mr Trump has consistently downplayed the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in the US, which has infected 7.5 million in America and killed more than 210,000 of them, giving mixed messages about the necessity of wearing masks to slow the spread of the disease.
As recently as Thursday night, he told supporters that a vaccine was on track to be distributed before the end of the year and that “the end of the pandemic is in sight”.
Several other world leaders have tested positive for Covid-19, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Mr Trump, 74, falls within the age cohort most vulnerable to serious cases of the virus.
The White House said in June this year that his annual physical indicated he was healthy, although observers noted that his height of 1.9m and weight of 110.7kg at the time put him over the medical threshold for obesity.
Should the disease incapacitate him, Mr Trump’s party may have to face the nightmare scenario of replacing its candidate midstream.