Advertisement

Biden, Sanders consider virtual Democratic campaign events amid coronavirus fears

Coronavirus outbreak: Joe Biden says Ohio governor asked campaign to cancel rally
Addressing supporters following key primary wins Tuesday, former U.S. vice-president and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden said he had cancelled his rally in Cleveland, Ohio, after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine asked presidential campaigns to cancel their events over COVID-19 fears.

Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden on Wednesday canceled political rallies in Florida and Illinois due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and replaced them with what his campaign called “virtual events” in the two states.

Biden and his rival U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont are re-thinking their approach to their campaigns amid widespread warnings from public health officials about the packed crowds and handshaking involved in politicking. Both called off primary election-night rallies in Ohio on Tuesday.

Story continues below advertisement

Biden’s virtual events will be held in the lead-up to the next round of primaries to decide who should get the Democratic nomination to take on Republican President Donald Trump in November. The two states will vote on Tuesday along with Ohio and Arizona.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: U.S. presidential hopefuls continue to campaign despite virus risk

Trump has sought to play down the extent of the coronavirus threat and has held several rallies in recent weeks aimed at stealing the spotlight from the Democrats. On Tuesday his campaign said he would hold a “Catholics for Trump” event in Milwaukee on March 19. Trump is also expected to travel for a campaign fundraiser in Denver on Thursday.

Biden, a moderate who has emerged as the race’s clear front-runner, and Sanders, a democratic socialist, have both criticized the Trump administration over its response to the outbreak.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

“This is a matter, this whole coronavirus – is a matter of presidential leadership,” Biden said in Philadelphia on Tuesday night after decisively winning four of the six states that voted.

Biden said he would deliver an address on the U.S. response to the virus in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, on Thursday.

Michigan primary: Biden scores wins in Michigan, three other states
Michigan primary: Biden scores wins in Michigan, three other states

COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious virus, is a sometimes fatal respiratory illness. The number of coronavirus cases has risen steadily in the United States and currently exceeds 1,000, with 32 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

Story continues below advertisement

Earlier on Wednesday, Biden’s campaign said it had created a committee of mostly doctors who could give advice on how to keep the candidate, his staff and voters safe.

Sanders’ campaign has said it will address plans on a day-to-day basis.

READ MORE: Joe Biden wins Michigan, 3 other states to take command of Democratic race

Trump campaign officials did not respond to requests for comment about how the coronavirus outbreak would influence event plans. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday told reporters decisions about events would be made “literally on a day-by-day basis.”

State officials have told constituents to consider voting early if they are worried.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Wednesday urged voters to participate, but try to avoid crowds.

“People should think about trying to vote at a time when there is a smaller crowd,” DeWine said, suggesting that many polling places are less crowded in mid-afternoon. Voters also still have time to cast their ballots by mail, he said.

COVID-19: Trump says he hasn’t considered cancelling campaign rallies despite outbreak
COVID-19: Trump says he hasn’t considered cancelling campaign rallies despite outbreak

Arizona officials reminded voters of a Wednesday deadline to vote by mail.

Story continues below advertisement

Separately, organizers on Wednesday called off a March 27 rally in Detroit that was to be hosted by former first lady Michelle Obama. The rally, aimed at boosting election turnout in November, was canceled “out of an abundance of caution” given the spread of the coronavirus, organizers said.

The outbreak has infected more than 121,000 people and killed more than 4,380 worldwide. It has pounded financial markets, forced school closures and prompted organizers to cancel concerts, conferences and sporting events.

READ MORE: Trump to provide update on U.S. coronavirus measures, including executive actions

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has urged state election officials to ensure that virus concerns did not interfere with upcoming votes.

“States must not wait a moment longer to take real steps to address the impact of the coronavirus on the 2020 election season,” the organization said in a statement.

The Democratic National Committee said the next presidential debate, scheduled for Sunday in Phoenix, would not have an in-person audience because of the health concerns.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Philadelphia, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, and Amanda Becker, Doina Chiacu, Chris Kahn, Steve Holland and Jason Lange in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)

Story continues below advertisement