Former Vice President Joe Biden coughed into his hand as he fielded a question about the coronavirus pandemic to kick off the first head-to-head debate of the primary season.
The frontrunner was asked what he would say to Americans dealing with the national emergency over the outbreak of the respiratory illness — and ironically coughed several times as he answered, using his hand rather than the crook of his elbow as is generally recommended.
“This is bigger than any one of us,” Biden said, calling for a “national rallying” to combat the disease and for more tests to be made available.
Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, greeted each other by tapping elbows instead of shaking hands, as has been advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The candidates are duking it out on stage in Washington DC, after the debate’s venue was changed from Phoenix, Arizona over the pandemic. The podiums are six feet apart per CDC recommended guidelines for avoiding spread of the virus.
Also, there is no audience and only a dozen people are physically present at the TV-studio because of the pandemic.
More than 3,000 people in 49 states have been infected and at least 65 have died.
Sanders blasted President Trump’s response, saying Trump has “exacerbated” the crisis and is “undermining the doctors and scientists who are trying to help the American people.”
He said the outbreak demonstrates the need for his “Medicare for All” healthcare plan.
“In the midst of this epidemic, you have people in the pharmaceutical industry saying, wow, what an opportunity to make a fortune,” he said.
“So the word has got to go out. I certainly would do this as president. You don’t worry. People of America, do not worry about the cost of prescription drugs.”
But Biden pushed back, pointing out that coronavirus-ravaged Italy has a single-payer healthcare system.
Sanders responded that some Americans wouldn’t receive comprehensive coverage without his plan — and launched an attack at Biden.
“The trick is, do we have the guts to take on the healthcare industry, some of which is funding the vice president’s campaign. Do we have the courage to take on the executives at the prescription drug industry. Some of whom are funding his campaign,” Sanders said.
He said the government should support people who will be economically affected by closures amid the pandemic.
Both candidates said they would deploy the US military to respond to the outbreak.
“This is like a war and in a war you need to do whatever is needed to be done to take care of your people,” Biden said. “Everything you need in terms of dealing with the crisis would be free… it is paid for by the taxpayers generally… it has nothing to do with Bernie’s Medicare for All.”
Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who has won just two pledged delegates, failed to qualify for Sunday’s debate, the 11th of the primary season. It is being hosted by CNN and Univision and has three moderators, CNN anchors Dana Bash and Jake Tapper, and Univision anchor Ilia Calderón.
Another moderator, Jorge Ramos of Univision, gave up his spot after he believed he had been possibly exposed to the coronavirus.
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