Donald Trump plans campaign rally despite coronavirus surge

Donald Trump has set out plans for a large campaign rally in New Hampshire, even as public health officials warn Americans to avoid big gatherings to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The US president, who is seeking re-election, will hold a rally next Saturday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, his campaign staff announced on Sunday. The rally will be outdoors, at Portsmouth international airport. It will be the president’s first big campaign event since a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month attracted smaller than expected crowds.

“We look forward to so many freedom-loving patriots coming to the rally and celebrating America, the greatest country in the history of the world,” said Hogan Gidley, national press secretary for the president’s re-election bid.

The campaign announcement came hours after officials across America’s Sun Belt blamed early reopenings for a surge of coronavirus cases across the country.

The US leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and the outbreak has worsened across the southern Sun Belt — particularly in Florida, California, Texas, Arizona and Georgia — in recent weeks. Many state officials have been compelled to reverse plans for reopening their economies.

“We opened way too early in Arizona,” Kate Gallego, the Democratic mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, told ABC News on Sunday. “We were one of the last states to go to stay-at-home and one of the first to re-emerge.”

Arizona reported an additional 3,536 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, one day after the July 4 holiday, which commemorates the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Francis Suarez, the Republican mayor of Miami, Florida, said on Sunday there was “no doubt” that reopening led to people “socialising as if the virus didn’t exist”.

Florida reported just over 10,000 new infections on Sunday, with most of the outbreak concentrated in the Miami area. That followed an additional 11,458 cases reported on Saturday, a one-day record.

Meanwhile, California reported an additional 5,410 cases on Sunday, after reporting 6,510 new infections on Saturday.

The number of cases reported at weekends tends to lag behind weekday figures. Public health experts have also raised concerns that thousands more Americans would contract the virus during the three-day holiday weekend at indoor parties, crowded outdoor events, religious services and family gatherings.

Mr Trump nevertheless pressed ahead with two big events: a fireworks celebration at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on Friday night and another on the White House lawn on Saturday evening. Most people at the gatherings appeared not to wear face masks, despite warnings from public health officials.

Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, encouraged Americans to wear a face mask when social distancing is not possible © REUTERS

In a speech at Saturday’s “Salute to America” event, the president blamed China for the spread of the coronavirus, saying the US had “made a lot of progress” and its “strategy was moving along well”. The president said the high number of cases was the result of widespread testing. He claimed 99 per cent of coronavirus cases were “totally harmless”.

When asked about the president’s claims on Sunday, Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, did not explicitly agree with Mr Trump’s assertion. “This is a very rapidly moving epidemic, a rapidly moving pandemic, and any death, any case, is tragic. And we want to do everything we can to prevent that,” he told ABC News.

Dr Hahn encouraged Americans to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and their local officials, including wearing a face mask in circumstances where social distancing is not possible. “That’s how we’re going to get out of this. That’s how we’re going to further flatten. That’s how we’re going to stop this rising number of cases in the Sun Belt,” he said.

Republican and Democratic politicians increasingly agree that Americans need to wear face masks and observe social distancing if they are to slow the spread of the virus.

Phil Murphy, the Democratic governor of New Jersey, which was among the states hardest hit by coronavirus earlier this year, called for a national, rather than state-by-state, strategy on Sunday to clamp down on new cases.

He told NBC News it was “almost not even debatable” that people should be wearing masks when leaving their homes, adding that it should be a national requirement to do so.

Mr Trump, who has refused to wear a face mask, has only recently begun travelling the country to meet supporters in person.

The president’s poll numbers have dropped sharply in recent weeks, with many Americans disapproving of his handling of both the coronavirus pandemic and widespread civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd.

Most national polls show the president trailing Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, by double digits. Mr Biden, who did not make any public appearances at the weekend but released a July 4 video message, leads in all of the “battleground” states that are key in the Electoral College system to winning the White House.