US President Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail on Monday to defend his handling of a pandemic that has killed 220,000 Americans.
Thousands came to see Trump in Florida for a rally that lasted an hour as the US president tries to get his campaign back on track mere weeks before the presidential election.
It was his first rally since he tested positive for COVID-19 and Trump joked that he was healthy enough to give voters “a big fat kiss”.
The US president was hospitalised for COVID-19 just over a week ago but upon returning to the White House told Americans not to let the virus “dominate” them.
Despite the some 50,000 daily cases in the US and hundreds of daily deaths, Trump said the country has recovered.
“Under my leadership, we’re delivering a safe vaccine and a rapid recovery like no one can even believe,” Trump insisted. “If you look at our upward path, no country in the world has recovered the way we have recovered.”
Many had questioned whether the president, who tested positive for COVID-19 less than two weeks ago, was still contagious. He declared that he was not.
“I feel so powerful,” said Trump, displaying no obvious signs of lingering infection. “I’ll walk into that audience. I’ll walk in there, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women … everybody. I’ll just give ya a big fat kiss.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said Monday on CNN that those who recover from COVID-19 are likely to be immune for a limited period of time, but there are cases emerging of people getting reinfected weeks or months later.
A boisterous rally with his usual attacks
Trump slammed Democrats as “unhinged and out for vengeance” and said there was “tremendous progress” on virus treatments.
He claimed that Biden would institute a “draconian” lockdown if he wins in November whereas under Trump, he said normal life would resume.
There are just three weeks to go before the presidential elections and Trump is trailing in national and state polling. That includes in Florida, a state seen as key to his reelection.
He won the state in 2016 by just over 112,000 votes. Trump will be back in the state Friday for another rally, this time in Ocala.
He has multiple events planned in key states this week including Pennsylvania, Iowa, North Carolina, George and Wisconsin.
Trump’s decision to so quickly return to the campaign trail drew criticism from Biden.
“President Trump comes to Sanford today bringing nothing but reckless behaviour, divisive rhetoric, and fear mongering,” Biden said in a statement. “But, equally dangerous is what he fails to bring: no plan to get this virus that has taken the lives of over 15,000 Floridians under control.”
Trump continued to mock Biden for his efforts to encourage social distancing at his campaign events.
“He’s got a lot of bad days coming,” Trump said at another point.