US President Donald Trump defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic on NBC

Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump gave a combative, at times agitated defense of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic Thursday while his election challenger Joe Biden, appearing in a simultaneous television town hall on another network, accused him of having done “nothing.”

“We’re rounding the corner,” Trump said with his usual optimism, even as swaths of the United States see sharply rising caseloads.

But pressed by the host of the NBC town hall in Miami, he became quickly frustrated, especially when he was asked about his lukewarm denunciations of extremist right wing groups in the United States.

He refused to denounce QAnon, a conspiracy theory movement that believes Trump is fighting a “deep state” linked to a mysterious global elite running the world’s governments, while also trafficking in child sex.

Trump said “I know nothing about QAnon,” and then continued to say that he liked the shadowy group’s position being “very much against pedophilia.”

Democratic presidential Joe Biden accused President Donald Trump of having done 'nothing' to fight coronavirus

By contrast, Biden’s appearance on the rival ABC news network was lower key, emphasizing direct conversations with audience members in the town hall format held in Philadelphia.

The Democrat, who is holding a steady lead in the polls ahead of the November 3 election, aimed fire immediately on Trump’s coronavirus record, accusing him of having failed the country.

“We’re in a situation where we have 210,000 plus people dead and what’s he doing? Nothing. He’s still not wearing masks,” Biden said.

- No debate -

Originally, both candidates had been meant to meet Thursday for what would have been their second of three presidential debates.

The first debate, which took place in Philadelphia, was a brutal affair in which Trump repeatedly talked over the top of Biden and the Democrat told him to “shut up.” The follow-up, however, was scrapped after organizers switched to a virtual format, citing Trump’s coronavirus infection, and the president refused to accept the arrangement.

Opinion poll averages for Donald Trump and Joe Biden nationwide and in 6 key battleground states, as of October 14

Trump, who says he is clear of Covid-19 and got back on the campaign trail Monday, has rallies booked around the country for every night this week.

He predicted to supporters at a rally in North Carolina earlier Thursday that Biden would be given an easier time by the moderator and audience over on ABC. “I’m being set up tonight,” he said.

The decision by NBC to accept a Trump appearance at the same time as Biden’s town hall likely meant that few Americans would get to see and contrast the two men.

This may suit reality television veteran Trump, who has often sought to counter-program his Democratic opponents and hog the media limelight.

But with only 19 days until the election, he is running out of time to overtake Biden.

Even a close US Senate ally to Trump, Lindsey Graham, said Thursday that Biden may be on his way to victory.

“You all have a good chance of winning the White House,” he told Democratic colleagues at the opening of a hearing on Trump’s latest conservative Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

- Harris on hold -

The coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 217,000 Americans, continued to disrupt the already tense presidential election.

Following Trump’s temporary time out from the campaign while he recovered last week, Biden’s vice presidential running mate Kamala Harris has now put her own travel on hold after her communications director tested positive.

Harris staffer Liz Allen and a flight crew member were diagnosed late Wednesday, Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said in a statement.

Democrat Joe Biden's vice presidential running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, froze her travel after a staffer and an airplane crewmember tested positive for the coronavirus less than three weeks before the US presidential election

Harris did not need to quarantine, O’Malley Dillon added, but “out of an abundance of caution” would cancel travel and campaign virtually before hitting the road again October 19.

Both individuals flew with Harris on October 8. The campaign said they wore masks and were not within six feet (two meters) of Harris for more than 15 minutes.

“I wasn’t in close contact – as defined by the CDC – with either during the 2 days prior to their positive tests,” tweeted Harris, a 55-year-old US senator.

“I’ve had 2 negative tests this week & am not showing symptoms.”

Biden has reported multiple negative coronavirus tests since Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis on October 1, the latest dating from Wednesday night.

Their second head-to-head debate was cancelled, but Joe Biden and Donald Trump will hold separate town hall events at the same time instead

The campaign said that yet another person who tested positive had traveled on Biden’s plane this week but had been so far away that the candidate was in no danger and doctors said “there is no need” for him to quarantine.

While Trump boasts of being “immune” to the coronavirus and inaccurately calls experimental therapeutic drugs that were given to him a “cure,” he also continues to be dogged by the pandemic’s fallout.

On Wednesday, his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, revealed that their son Barron, 14, had contracted the virus, but was now negative.