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Donald Trump insisted that the US is “turning the corner” on the coronavirus pandemic as the nation broke its highest single-day infection record with more than 77,000 confirmed cases on Thursday, eight months into the pandemic.
During the final presidential debate between the president and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden, Mr Trump claimed that the US is “learning to live” with the virus that has killed more than 220,000 Americans, sent him to the hospital and infected more than a dozen people within his inner circle at the White House.
States reported at least 5,300 Covid-19 deaths since last Thursday, an increase of more than 10 per cent week over week, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
The public health crisis dominated 15 minutes from the start of the debate on Thursday night at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Asked for his plans to combat the disease if re-elected, the president pointed to his administration’s response over the last several months.
“We’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner,” he said.
Mr Trump also claimed vaccine candidates in trial phases have a “good chance” to be prepared by the end of the year, after he said that one would ready within weeks. He said the US military will distribute “100 million vials” across the US “as soon as we have the vaccine.”
“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Mr Biden said in his response.
The former vice president criticised the president for failing to produce a “comprehensive plan” as he outlined his response if elected. Mr Biden said he would encourage people to wear masks, expand rapid testing availability, and provide relief to out-of-work Americans, small businesses and schools to prepare for students and staff.
“We’re about to go into a dark winter,” Mr Biden said.
The former vice president brought up the president’s repeated attempts to dismiss the impact of the outbreak and his recently revealed comments to journalist Bob Woodward, who recorded the president admitting that he downplayed its severity and knew of its dangers.
“He said we’re learning to live with it – people are learning to die with it," Mr Biden said. "You folks at home will have an empty chair at the kitchen table this morning. That man or wife going to bed at night and reaching to try out of habit to touch where their wife or husband is gone. … Is it really dangerous still? If it’s dangerous now, what should they do about the danger? And you say, ‘I take no responsibility.’""
The president said in response: “I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault it came here. It’s China’s fault.”
In May, the president said “I don’t take responsibility at all” when questioned about his administration’s failure to launch widespread testing capabilities, arguing that the system he inherited and ran for three years was not prepared to scale "with the kind of numbers that we are talking about.”
Over the months that followed, he repeatedly hailed the administration’s testing capacity while downplaying the severity of the disease and falsely claiming that the nation’s dramatic case count is only due to the number of tests it performs.
“When we knew it was coming, when it hit, what happened?” Mr Biden said. “He said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going away.'”
Mr Trump also repeated his misleading claim that 2.2 million people were “expected to die” from the disease – a figure that projects the scale of death if the administration didn’t do anything at all.
The president also suggested he’s now “immune” to the disease, despite no evidence showing that his recent infection and hospitalisation and drug therapy had immunised him.
Mr Biden condemned the administration for failing to lead federal relief efforts to send aid to struggling states and unemployed Americans, as the president blamed Democratic governors and mayors, though rising cases across the US have heavily impacted states that voted for the president in 2016.
“I don’t look at this in terms of the way he does – blue states and red states,” Mr Biden said. “They’re all the United States.”