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Democrats cancel debates, bar audience from debate

New York, March 11 (IANS) Coronavirus sweeping the US is casting its dark shadow on the nation’s politics in an election year leading to the Democrats cancelling campaign rallies and barring audience from the debate between former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders, who are vying for the party nomination to challenge President Donald Trump in November.

Both their campaigns announced on Tuesday that they were calling off their rallies scheduled for next week in Ohio.

The Democratic National Committee said that at the request of the two campaigns as a precautionary measure against COVID-19 spreading, there will be no live audience at the nationally televised Sunday debate in Phoenix and Arizona.

Trump and his potential adversaries are all over 70 belonging to an age group most at risk from coronavirus.

The Democratic and Republican primaries — the intra-party polls to select the nominees for the presidential election — was held through postal ballots in Washington State, which is most hit by coronavirus with 29 deaths as of Tuesday night.

Tuesday was the polling day for the state, but instead of coming to polling stations voters had to mail their ballots or deposit them in drop boxes.

The political threat of coronavirus is being felt with seven members of Congress, who were exposed to people infected by it, going into self-quarantine while Congress takes up Trump’s proposals to deal with the economic crisis sparked by the disease.

One of them is Representative Mark Meadows, who was appointed by Trump as his chief of staff on Friday and will not be able to participate directly in the coronavirus crisis management.

Doctors have recommended that those who had come in contact with an infected person quarantine themselves for 14 days so that they do not inadvertently spread the disease if they had caught it.

Besides Meadows, Trump has come into contact with also three other members of Congress in self-quarantine leading to questions about his possible exposure to the disease and if he was tested for it.

His Spokesperson Stephanie Grisham said on Monday night that he was not tested “because he has neither had prolonged close contact with any known confirmed CoVID-19 patients, nor does he have any symptoms” and added that he was in “excellent health.”

Trump, who revels in large crowds, does not have any rallies scheduled, although he is to participate in a fundraiser for a Republican senator in Colorado on Friday.

As the campaign for president and other offices heats up, the US will have to grapple with how the politicians can interact with voters while protecting themselves as well as the crowds they draw.

The danger to politicians is illustrated by the case of the three of the members of Congress in self-quarantine who had come into contact with an infected person while attending a political meeting, the Conservative Political Action Conference, last month.

Anthony Fauci, who is the administration’s leading scientific authority on the coronavirus crisis, has not taken a stand on whether large gatherings can be held or not saying that it would depend on the time and whether there has a been a community outbreak of the disease at the place.

“If you’re talking about a campaign rally tomorrow, in a place where there is no community spread, I think the judgment to have it might be a good judgment,” he said on Monday.

But, “If you want to talk about large gatherings in a place where you have community spread, I think that’s a judgment call,” he said.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has written to members of her Democratic Party that she would be consulting with the House doctor and staff members about holding sessions, although she saw “no reason for us not to continue with our vital legislative work in the Capitol.”

Both chambers of Congress have not scheduled any sessions next week.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

–IANS

al/dpb

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