White House says Biden has COVID-19

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Joe Biden, the oldest person ever to serve as president of the United States, has tested positive for COVID-19, is experiencing mild symptoms and will continue working but in isolation, the White House says.

Biden, 79, has a runny nose, fatigue and an occasional dry cough, which he began to experience late on Wednesday, White House physician Kevin O’Connor said in a note made public on Thursday. 

Biden has begun taking the antiviral treatment Paxlovid, O’Connor said.

“He is fully vaccinated and twice boosted and experiencing very mild symptoms,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

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“Consistent with CDC guidelines, he will isolate at the White House and will continue to carry out all of his duties fully during that time,” she said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The White House will provide a daily update on the president’s health, Jean-Pierre said.

Biden’s administration is facing major challenges including soaring inflation and Russia’s land assault on Ukraine. 

His popularity has dropped sharply over the past year. 

A Reuters/Ipsos survey completed on Tuesday showed 36 per cent of people in the US approve of his job performance.

His illness forced cancellation of a trip to Pennsylvania where Biden intended to lay out plans to ask Congress for $US37 billion ($A54 billion) for crime prevention programs.

“Folks, I’m doing great. Thanks for your concern. Just called Senator Casey, Congressman Cartwright, and Mayor Cognetti (and my Scranton cousins!) to send my regrets for missing our event today. Keeping busy!” Biden wrote on Twitter.

A picture accompanying the tweet showed the president smiling, wearing a blazer and sitting at a desk with papers.

The White House provided an unusually detailed account of the president’s morning activities, including a series of phone calls to political allies.

Multiple members of Biden’s administration and other senior figures in Washington DC have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent months, including Vice President Kamala Harris and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both of whom have since tested negative and resumed working.

US stocks briefly headed lower following reports of the president’s diagnosis, with the S&P 500 dropping about 0.5 per cent over the following 10 minutes.

The index quickly retraced that loss and by mid-morning was back to near the unchanged mark on the day.

While many in the country have moved on from the strict precautions of the pandemic’s early months, returning to offices and schools and resuming summer travel, the virus continues to spread.

Cases in the United States are up more than 25 per cent in the last month, according to CDC data, as the rapidly spreading BA.5 subvariant has taken hold.

Evading the immune protection afforded either by vaccination or prior infection, BA.5 has been the dominant subvariant in the United States since at least early July and has driven a surge of new infections globally.

Biden is tested regularly for the disease and anyone who meets with him or travels with him is tested beforehand, the White House has said. 

Biden had last tested negative on Tuesday.

If given within the first five days of infection, the Pfizer Inc antiviral drug Paxlovid that Biden is taking has been shown to reduce the risk of severe disease by nearly 90 per cent in high risk patients.

But Paxlovid has in some cases been associated with rebound infections, in which patients improve quickly and test negative after a five-day course of the drug but then days later symptoms return.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, experienced a rebound infection four days after ending his first course of Paxlovid and was given a second round of the drug, Fauci said in an interview this week.

Biden’s White House predecessor, Donald Trump, contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalised for three nights in October 2020.

Biden is fully vaccinated and got his second booster shot in March. 

The risk of an unvaccinated person aged 65 and older being hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 is 10 times that of someone who has been vaccinated.

Unlike Trump, Biden consistently wore a mask when in public when case counts were high and before being vaccinated.

Biden has, however, stopped wearing a mask at public events in recent months, and the White House dropped its mask requirement ahead of his March 1 State of the Union Address.

Biden joins a roster of other world leaders who have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic started in early 2020.

Those include UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Albert II, the prince of Monaco. 

All have recovered.

Jean-Pierre said Biden had been speaking with his staff by phone and will continue taking part in meetings by phone and Zoom from the White House while he recovers. 

He will resume in-person work once he tests negative, she said.

Administration officials have acknowledged that Biden’s regular contact with advisers and supporters could expose him to COVID-19.

On Wednesday he travelled to Rhode Island and Massachusetts for a speech on climate change.

Biden’s wife Jill tested negative on Thursday morning in Detroit and plans to maintain her full schedule of travel in Michigan and Georgia, according to her spokesman Michael LaRosa.

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