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US election: Donald Trump refuses to take part in virtual debate with Joe Biden

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This combination of Sept. 29, 2020, photos shows Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio.
This combination of Sept. 29, 2020, photos shows Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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Donald Trump has vowed not to take part in next week's TV debate with former Vice-President Joe Biden after organisers said it will take place virtually because of the president's diagnosis of COVID-19.

His refusal came just moments after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the change from the original plan, which was for both candidates to face off in Miami on October 15.

Instead it said the event would go ahead next Thursday, but with the two candidates participating "from separate remote locations" while the moderator remained in the city.

However, the president quickly rejected the idea. “I’m not going to do a virtual debate" with Biden, Trump told Fox News on Thursday morning.

This casts serious doubts over next week's planned event. The Democratic campaign had said that its candidate would participate. “Vice President Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people," deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement.

It is more evidence that the race remains defined by the virus, even as Trump has attempted to underplay it.

Trump was diagnosed with the coronavirus a week ago. However, on Tuesday he said he looked forward to debating Biden on stage in Miami. “It will be great!” he tweeted.

Biden, for his part, said he and Trump “shouldn’t have a debate” as long as the president remains COVID-positive.

Biden told reporters in Pennsylvania that he was “looking forward to being able to debate him” but said “we’re going to have to follow very strict guidelines.”

Trump was pronounced ill with the virus just 48 hours after debating Biden in person for the first time in Cleveland.

While the two candidates remained a few metres apart during the debate, Trump's infection sparked health concerns for Biden and sent him to undergo multiple COVID-19 tests before returning to the campaign trail.

Trump was still contagious with the virus when he was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday but his doctors have not provided any detailed update on his status.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 can be contagious for as many as 10 days — and should isolate for at least as long.

The first debate between the two candidates last week was an ugly affair, marked by insults and constant interruptions. Trump in particular repeatedly talked over his rival, leading Biden to comment that it was hard to keep up with the president's ranting.

It's not the first debate in which the candidates are not in the same room. In 1960, the third presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy was broadcast with the two candidates on opposite coasts.