U.S. response to COVID-19 pandemic takes center stage at final presidential debate

Xinhua News Agency | Oct 23, 2020 at 4:59 AM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Former Vice President Joe Biden slammed President Donald Trump for mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday night at the final presidential debate, while Trump defended the administration's response to the crisis.

"We're in a circumstance where the president thus far still has no plan, no comprehensive plan," the Democratic presidential nominee said in the debate held at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, less than two weeks before the Election Day.

Biden noted that the death toll of COVID-19 had already surpassed 220,000 in the United States, with 1,000 new deaths per day, accusing the president of intentionally playing down the coronavirus threat.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 1,076 people died due to COVID-19 on Wednesday and the daily death toll averaged around 700 during the past week.

In his response, Trump said that it's a "worldwide pandemic," noting that there are spikes in Europe and many other places right now, and also attempting to shift blame to China, where the outbreak first occurred.

"We're fighting it and we're fighting it hard," and the outcomes would be much worse without the administration's efforts to contain the spread of the virus, Trump argued, highlighting the supply of ventilators and other medical equipment.

Trump said recent spikes in the U.S. states of Florida, Texas, Arizona are now gone, and spikes and surges in other places "will soon be gone," adding that vaccines will come "within weeks."

When asked by the moderator whether it's a guaranteed timeline, the president said "it's not a guarantee, but it will be by the end of the year," adding that he thinks "it has a good chance."

"We have to reopen our country. The cure can't be worse than the problem itself," Trump said. "We're learning to live with it. We have no choice. We can't lock ourselves up in a basement."

Biden, however, refuted Trump's remarks, saying "people are learning to die with it."

The Democratic nominee said if elected, he would make sure everyone is encouraged to wear a mask, invest in rapid testing, set up national standards and provide financial resources to safely reopen schools and businesses.

In the exchange, Trump also criticized the Obama administration's response to the swine flu, saying that it was a total disaster. "Now he (Biden) comes up and he tells us how to do this," the president said.

Topics chosen for discussion by the moderator, NBC News' White House correspondent Kristen Welker, include "Fighting COVID-19," "National Security," "American Families," "Race in America," "Climate Change," and "Leadership," which covered an uninterrupted 90-minute period.

The first presidential debate on Sept. 29 was filled with constant interruptions and descended into chaos, which prompted the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates to change rules of the debate. On Monday, the commission announced the muting of microphones to give each candidate two uninterrupted minutes over each topic.

The pair were originally scheduled to meet in a town hall-style debate last week, which was canceled after Trump refused to join a virtual event arranged by the commission due to his COVID-19 infection. Both candidates participated in dueling broadcast town halls on the night instead.

Trump still trails Biden in national polling averages, but the gap has slightly narrowed from a week ago. The Biden campaign has recently warned that in the key battleground states where this election will be decided, the two candidates remain neck and neck.