×

We've got news for you.

Register on BusinessLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now
President Joe Biden tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, finally contracting the virus whose control and ultimate defeat he had made a centerpiece of his campaign for the White House. Picture: BLOOMBERG
President Joe Biden tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, finally contracting the virus whose control and ultimate defeat he had made a centerpiece of his campaign for the White House. Picture: BLOOMBERG

President Joe Biden tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, finally contracting the virus whose control and ultimate defeat he had made a centrepiece of his campaign for the White House.

Biden’s illness, coming after a five-day trip to the Middle East during which he made few efforts to avoid infection, highlights the endurance of a pandemic that has killed millions of people worldwide and upturned the global economy.

Biden, 79, has begun taking Pfizer’s Paxlovid treatment for the disease, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, and will isolate at the White House while continuing his duties.

“He has been in contact with members of the White House staff by phone this morning, and will participate in his planned meetings at the White House this morning via phone and Zoom from the residence,” Jean-Pierre said in the statement.

The president returned this week from visiting Saudi Arabia and Israel, and travelled Wednesday to Massachusetts to promote executive actions he was undertaking to address climate change. Jean-Pierre said the White House Medical Unit would identify all of Biden’s close contacts and inform them of his infection. 

Lawmakers who travelled with him to Massachusetts included senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and representatives Jake Auchincloss and Bill Keating.

President feels ‘fine’

First lady Jill Biden tested negative for Covid-19 Thursday morning and told reporters travelling with her to Detroit that the president felt fine.

“I talked to him just a few minutes ago,” she said, according to CNN. “He’s doing fine, he’s feeling good.”

The president had planned to travel Thursday to Pennsylvania for a speech on gun safety and crime and a Democratic National Committee (DNC) fundraiser.

Infections have been on the rise in the US, because of more transmissible omicron subvariants like BA.4 and BA.5.
Bloomberg

Biden is fully vaccinated and has received two booster shots. Jean-Pierre said the White House will provide a daily update on his condition until he recovers.

The White House has warned that the latest subvariant of the virus — called BA.5 — has increased ability to escape immunity from prior infections and immunisations. Earlier this month, the White House said it was stepping up efforts to encourage vaccinations, including booster shots for those eligible.

But at the same time, Biden has more freely engaged in social and business activities without precautions such as masks or distancing. In recent weeks, he hosted large groups of lawmakers at the White House for a congressional picnic and an event to mark the passage of legislation intended to address a recent spate of mass shootings. During both events, the president mingled maskless in crowds.

Anyone in a small meeting with the president generally has to take a Covid-19 rapid test. Those who test negative are given a brightly coloured bracelet. But the president has recently attended larger events where not all attendees are tested.

Before his trip to the Mideast, White House officials said Biden would be cautious as he met with foreign officials by avoiding handshakes and other intimate moments. But almost as soon as he stepped off the plane, Biden began greeting people warmly with handshakes and even embraces.

White House officials have previously said after the infection of top administration officials — including Vice-President Kamala Harris — that it would not be surprising if Biden contracted the virus, even considering expanded safety protocols in place. 

But Biden’s aides have increasingly shrugged off the risk, saying privately that they were confident that if he contracted the disease, his case would be mild, thanks to his relative fitness, vaccinations and the availability of treatments.

One White House official said it was business as usual at the building on Thursday, with Biden participating in meetings by Zoom.

Mild symptoms

Biden tested positive first on an antigen test and then again on a PCR test, White House physician Kevin O’Connor said in a memo released by the White House.

His symptoms are mild and include a runny nose, fatigue and an occasional dry cough, O’Connor said. The symptoms began to present on Wednesday evening.

O’Connor said that due to Biden’s vaccination status and Paxlovid regimen, he anticipated the president would “respond favourably, as most maximally protected patients do.”

Many other Group of Seven (G7) leaders contracted Covid-19 in the past two and a half years of the pandemic. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalised and by his own admission almost died. That was back in 2020, when the mortality rates were high, vaccines were unavailable and the disease was much less under control. French President Emmanuel Macron also had the virus in late 2020.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has had Covid-19 twice, including as recently as June, after he attended the Summit of the Americas (SOA) hosted by Biden.

An estimated 562.7-million people worldwide have contracted Covid-19, resulting in 6.4-million deaths, according to WHO statistics. The virus is still infecting almost one-million people a day worldwide, without accounting for people who are infected and never tested.

In the US alone, 88.5-million people have got sick over the course of the pandemic, according to WHO. Infections have been on the rise in the US, because of more transmissible omicron subvariants like BA.4 and BA.5.

Bloomberg. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

subscribe

Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

Commenting is subject to our house rules.