Duelling Trump and Biden town-hall forums highlight Covid-19 influence on election

Covid-19 at front and centre of forums as US health authority announces 62,000 new cases in one day​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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Instead of US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden honouring a longtime tradition and holding a second debate, the two appeared in duelling "town hall" meetings at the exact same time.

The pandemic was front and centre during Mr Trump and Mr Biden’s separate meetings in Miami and Philadelphia respectively.

With the US reporting 62,000 coronavirus cases on Thursday, its highest daily count since July, Mr Biden criticised the US president for failing to contain the virus.

The initial debate had been cancelled because Mr Trump and several of his advisers at the White House had contracted the virus in recent weeks.

While he and Mr Biden reported negative tests over the past several days, the president refused to confirm whether he had tested negative before the first debate last month.

Mr Trump also refused to directly answer several questions from the moderator and audience related to his administration’s efforts to fight Covid-19 throughout the country and the timing of his own infection.

Most notably, Mr Trump did not confirm whether he supported herd immunity as a means of battling the virus.

Instead, he attacked the Covid-19 restrictions that various states and localities imposed to curb the spread of the virus, singling out Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

“The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself,” Mr Trump said. “It’s not constitutional, what they’re doing.”

Advocates of herd immunity support allowing the virus to spread throughout the population while sheltering vulnerable populations.

In recent weeks, the White House has repeatedly leant on a herd immunity champion, Dr Scott Atlas, for coronavirus guidance.

Although Dr Atlas is a neuroradiologist and not an infectious disease expert, Mr Trump used his name while playing down the efficacy of masks.

He also twisted a study by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention by falsely claiming that “85 per cent of people who wear masks” catch the coronavirus.

The study actually focused on a group of about 150 Covid-19 patients who had dined out indoors, 85 per cent of whom reported wearing masks.

But the president did ultimately endorse wearing them.

“I say wear the mask,” Mr Trump said. “I’m fine with it.”

Mr Biden, who maintains a lead in most polls and has raised a record $383 million for the last stretch of the campaign, showed off his mask at his town hall.

He said he would work with governors to try to make masks mandatory if elected president.

Mr Biden also criticised Mr Trump for his erroneous and misleading claims on coronavirus treatments.

“The words of a president matter,” Mr Biden said. “President Trump says crazy things” like “injecting bleach".

“I’m not being facetious, he’s actually said these things.”

But Mr Biden also ducked some questions, shying away from giving a clear answer on whether he would add justices to the Supreme Court.

"It depends on how this turns out," he said.

Mr Trump defended his decision to appoint Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in the middle of the election campaign.

That was despite siding with the Republican Senate in 2016 when they refused to confirm former president Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee because it was an election year.

“The whole ball game changed when I saw the way they treated Justice Kavanaugh,” said Mr Trump, referring to the Supreme Court justice he appointed in 2018, who was accused of sexual assault.

Mr Biden and Mr Trump are due to face off in a last debate in Nashville, Tennessee on Thursday.