Democratic front-runner Biden to give speech on U.S. response to coronavirus outbreak


WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden will deliver a speech on the country’s response to the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, one day after he canceled upcoming public rallies amid widening public health concerns.

Biden and White House rival Bernie Sanders have been forced to re-evaluate their approach to campaigning in the face of warnings about the health dangers inherent in big crowds and handshakes, two staples of traditional political races.

Both candidates in the Democratic race to pick a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election canceled events in Ohio and dropped off the campaign trail after Biden rolled to big wins over Sanders in four of the six states that voted on Tuesday.

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.

The former vice president’s speech in his home state of Delaware will give Biden, who has criticized Trump’s response to the outbreak and called it a matter of presidential leadership, a chance to portray himself as a steady, experienced hand in the face of a public health crisis.

Trump in an address to the nation on Wednesday night, imposed restrictions to prevent people from 26 European countries from traveling to the United States for a month, in an effort to fight the coronavirus.

Saying: “We are marshaling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people,” Trump also announced measures to help those affected by the virus, including financial relief for those who are ill, quarantined or caring for others.

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 Johns Hopkins University tally.

Sanders, a democratic socialist senator from Vermont, said on Wednesday he would stay in the race despite the primary losses to Biden and would keep pushing for his economic and social justice agenda.

Biden, 77, and Sanders, 78, will debate in Phoenix on Sunday ahead of next week’s nominating contests in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio. The debate will not have an in-person audience, however, because of health concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

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.

“While our campaign has won the ideological debate, we are losing the debate over electability,” he told reporters 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 Sanders 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; Editing by Peter Cooney