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Trump says he's not contagious, refuses virtual presidential debate

He says virtual format 'not acceptable' as he fears moderator would cut him off

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump, confined to the White House where he is being treated for Covid-19, said yesterday he does not believe he is contagious and is feeling good enough to resume campaign rallies as he tries to boost his flagging re-election bid.

"I'm back because I'm a perfect physical specimen," Mr Trump told Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo in his first interview since it was revealed nearly a week ago that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

In the interview, Mr Trump said he will refuse to take part in the second presidential debate on Oct 15 with Democratic rival Joe Biden after it was switched to a virtual format.

His comments came moments after the commission that oversees the debates said the event would be conducted from remote locations in the wake of his Covid-19 diagnosis.

"That's not acceptable to us," Mr Trump said, adding he thought the virtual format would allow the moderator to cut him off.

The president said he would not attend the debate if he was contagious.

Mr Trump's contention he was no longer contagious was not yet backed up by solid evidence from his doctors. The White House has refused to say when his last negative test for the virus was and, as a result, it is unclear how long he has been positive.

"I'm feeling good, really good," said Mr Trump, who spent three nights at a hospital outside Washington until his discharge on Monday. He said he had stopped taking "most therapeutics" for the virus but was still on steroids.

He also said he sees "really good" odds of reaching a deal with Democrats in Congress on a new round of coronavirus stimulus for the battered US economy.

"We're starting to have some very productive talks," he said, referring specifically to assistance for airlines and US$1,200 (S$1,630) checks for workers.

"We're talking about a bigger deal than airlines," he told Fox Business News. "I think we have a really good chance of doing something."

House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been negotiating a huge, new relief package for weeks, but differ on how much to spend.

CHANGED GEARS

On Tuesday evening, Mr Trump abruptly called an end to the talks, saying Ms Pelosi was not negotiating in good faith.

After an outcry from both parties and from business leaders, Mr Trump changed gears and called for Congress to "immediately" pass standalone legislation to extend aid for airline workers and small businesses.

Mr Trump has faced criticism for underestimating the coronavirus, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

Even since revealing his own illness on Friday, he has downplayed the respiratory disease's dangers and been censured by social media platforms for spreading misinformation about it. - REUTERS, AFP

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