After incessantly mocking the mask and belittling social distancing norms, US President Donald Trump has paid a price for his bravado, scepticism and egotism. Both he and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus just 32 days before the November 3 presidential election, throwing his campaign and the world into a whirlpool of uncertainty.
Trump's "diagnosis’’ amounts to the most potent health threat to a sitting American president in decades; the obese 74-years-old president falls in the highest risk category and the disease could prove destabilizing in an already fraught political climate, and stock market futures tumbled on news of the infection.
Trump persisted with the bravado. "We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!" he tweeted. In a statement, Trump's physician said the president and the first lady "are both well at this point of time", and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.
"Rest assured I expect the President to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering," the physician added. Media reports said Trump is considering addressing the nation to reassure Americans he is well and still leading the country.
The New York Times reported that the president has 'minor symptoms' and that he fell asleep on Air Force One on Wednesday night, which is highly unusual for him. The President’s White House aide Hope Hicks had tested positive on Thursday morning, hours after traveling with Trump back from a rally in Minnesota.
Joe Biden, Trump's 77-year-old opponent who he debated on Tuesday night, is being tested on Friday morning. He wished Trump and Melania a speedy recovery in a tweet on Friday morning. Vice President Mike Pence - who would take over from Trump in the event he becomes incapacitated - has tested negative as has Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin.
It remains unclear whether any other members of the Trump family have been tested, or what the results of those tests are. If Trump suffers mild or no symptoms, the president would be able to tout his recovery as evidence that the virus is a less grave a threat than many believe.
Markets reacted badly after Trump's diagnosis, with stock futures losing 1.9 per cent on the S&P 500, while oil prices also slipped. Europe's major stock markets also dived in opening trade on Friday, with London's FTSE 100 and Frankfurt's DAX 30 both shedding more than one per cent.
Global reaction to the news varied from concern and sympathy among well-wishers like PM Modi and Boris Johnson to cruel taunts from celebrities like Dominic West and conspiracy theories that Trump had made up his diagnosis to wriggle out of the next presidential debate.
The second debate on October 15 is now in jeopardy. In addition, the October 7 vice-presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris also appears in doubt, because Pence will have to isolate if he has been in contact with the president.
In remarks to a charity dinner, Trump told guests on Thursday night that 'the end of the pandemic is in sight'. ‘'Through advances in treatment, we have reduced the fatality rate by 85 percent since just April. We are on track to develop and distribute a vaccine before the end of the year, and maybe substantially before,’’ Trump had claimed.
During the first round of presidential debate, Biden had attacked Trump over the handling of the coronavirus crisis and said the president lied to Americans on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people and infected over seven million others in the country.
Trump had mocked Biden for regularly wearing a face mask in public. "I don't wear masks like him," Trump said, referring to the 77-year-old former vice president.
The Covid-19 infection is a personal and political blow to Trump. It could shake the confidence of his hardcore supporters who had followed his example by not wearing masks and questioning the health codes.