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Politics

Trump tests positive for COVID-19 a month ahead of election

Chinese state media blames US president for downplaying virus

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have both tested positive for COVID-19.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania have tested positive for COVID-19, further muddying an already messy election campaign that is being closely monitored in Asia.

"Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19," the president tweeted. "We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!"

Just a month before the Nov. 3 election, Trump earlier said he and his wife were entering enforced quarantine after Hope Hicks, a senior aide, fell sick with the virus.

An extended leave of absence by Trump would throw open the question of whether an official such as Vice President Mike Pence would have to temporarily step into the presidential role. Pence and his wife tested negative for COVID-19 on Friday, press secretary Devin O'Malley wrote on Twitter.

Sean Conley, the president's physician, wrote in a White House memo that both the president and first lady are "well at this time" and plan to remain within the White House.

"The White House medical team and I will maintain a vigilant watch," Conley wrote.

The news sent a jolt through the markets. The yen strengthened to around 105.30 against the dollar after the president tweeted. Dow average futures plunged over 500 points, while the Nikkei was down by 200 from its previous close, breaching the 23,000 line.

Under Trump's watch, the U.S. has more cases and deaths than any other country, with more than 7 million confirmed infections and 200,000 fatalities according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. India has the second-highest count, and a much bigger population than the U.S., while other parts of Asia -- especially South Korea, Japan and Taiwan -- have relatively few cases by comparison.

While Trump received messages of support from leaders including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese state media were quick to lay into him.

"President Trump and the first lady have paid the price for his gamble to play down the COVID-19," tweeted Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China's Global Times tabloid. "The news shows the severity of the US' pandemic situation. It will impose a negative impact on the image of Trump and the US, and may also negatively affect his reelection."

The English-language China Daily wrote: "The positive test is yet another reminder that the coronavirus continues to spread, even as Trump has tried desperately to suggest it no longer poses a danger. Since it emerged earlier this year, Trump, the White House and his campaign have played down the threat and refused to abide by basic public health guidelines -- including those issued by his own administration -- such as wearing masks in public and practicing social distancing."

Trump's diagnosis comes days after a ramshackle debate with Democratic rival Joe Biden that was marred by more mudslinging than policy discussion.

With the virus stemming from the Chinese city of Wuhan, Trump used his debate platform to again slam Beijing over its initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

"It's China's fault. It should have never happened," Trump sniped at Biden. "You don't know how many people died in China. You don't know how many people died in Russia. You don't know how many people died in India. They don't exactly give you a straight count, just so you understand."

Biden pointed to Trump's early praise for Chinese President Xi Jinping's response to the virus at the start of the year.

"He went in and we were insisting that the people we had in the ground in China should be able to go to Wuhan and determine for themselves how dangerous this was," Biden said, "He did not even ask Xi to do that."

Trump, who traveled with Hicks on the presidential aircraft to the debate in Cleveland on Tuesday evening and to a campaign rally in Minnesota, told Fox News that he spent a lot of time with the adviser.

Despite the pandemic, Trump has been holding large rallies across the U.S., with many of his ardent supporters not wearing masks or face coverings. Earlier this summer, Herman Cain, a previous candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, died after attending an indoor Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this summer.

Trump had been scheduled to hold a rally in Florida on Friday and two in Wisconsin on Saturday.

Trump, 74 and overweight, is in a high-risk demographic for developing severe coronavirus symptoms. One head of government, British Prime Minster Boris Johnson, was incapacitated by COVID-19 earlier this year and was sent to an intensive care unit.

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