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President Biden canceled his face-to-face meetings with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin on Thursday after the prime minister tested positive for coronavirus at a gala in Washington on Wednesday evening which the two men attended.
Daniel Mulhall, Ireland’s ambassador to the United States, confirmed the positive test early Thursday, complicating the prime minister’s plans to spend the day with Mr Biden for traditional St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Martin instead met virtually on Thursday morning, with Mr. Biden seated near a television screen showing Mr. Martin, with a bowl of clover on a coffee table. The president said he was “deeply sorry for the inconvenience caused” by the virtual format.
White House officials said Mr. Biden, who is 79 and has been vaccinated and strengthened, was not in close contact with Mr. Martin at Wednesday’s gala, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as being within six feet of someone for at least 15 minutes. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Mr Biden is tested weekly for the coronavirus, and his last test was on Sunday.
“We of course respect the recommendations and advice of his doctor,” she said during a press briefing on Thursday. “And if it was to do more testing, we would definitely do it. But he doesn’t think it’s necessary at this stage based on these recent contacts.
The prime minister’s test result came in recent days amid a wave of infections among officials in Washington. At least nine Democratic members of Congress tested positive this week after a party retreat and late vote last week. Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, also tested positive this week, as did former President Barack Obama.
White House officials played down the recent surge in cases, noting that the overall rate in Washington is still extremely low. Psaki said Thursday that the new Omicron subvariant, known as BA.2, has been circulating in the country for some time and the administration is monitoring cases in Europe and China. New cases in the US have plummeted from the height of Omicron’s push.
“We expect fluctuations, especially at this relatively low level,” Ms Psaki said, adding that the country was in a better position to manage the pandemic.
“It’s not gone, and that means we still have to keep taking the steps we can to fight the virus,” she said.
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Sources: National and local health agencies (cases, deaths); US Department of Health and Human Services (hospitalizations).
Mr Mulhall said on Twitter that he had accepted a leadership award for Mr. Martin on Wednesday at the Ireland Funds gala in Washington, an event which Mr. Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi also attended.
“I replaced the Taoiseach after he tested positive for #Covid19“, he wrote, using the word Irish to refer to the leader of the country. “I wish the Taoiseach good luck in his recovery.”
The Speaker’s Office confirmed that Ms Pelosi, who is vaccinated and boosted, tested negative on a PCR test on Thursday morning, and would continue regular testing and follow CDC guidelines, although it is not clear which ones. It was unclear whether the attending physician’s office considered Ms Pelosi, 81, a close contact.
Ms Pelosi, who was pictured sitting next to Mr Martin during the gala, appeared at his weekly press conference on Thursday, adding that she was tested almost every day. Mr Martin remained masked until food was served, she said, and was brushed aside during the appetizer class over his positive test.
‘We are very, very sad that on St. Patrick’s Day the Taoiseach has this diagnosis,’ she said at her indoor press conference, where she removed her mask to speak and answer questions. . “We will not be able to benefit from the honor of his presence.”
A planned luncheon – the Friends of Ireland Luncheon on Capitol Hill – took place on Thursday, without Mr Martin present. Ms Pelosi addressed the room, where lawmakers sat at round tables, while introducing Mr. Biden, who sat on a stool a few feet away. Neither wore a mask and there were few masks in the room.
“America has been blessed by Irish children, and one of those Irish children is now President of the United States,” Ms Pelosi said, just before the handshake and he took the lectern. Mr. Biden spoke, but did not stay for lunch.
Irish journalists traveling with Mr Martin’s delegation reported that he attended the first part of the gala, and photos from the event appeared to show him sitting next to Ms Pelosi.
An Irish government spokesman said in a statement on Thursday that the Prime Minister tested negative for the virus earlier on Wednesday and also on Sunday, before traveling to the United States.
His second test on Wednesday was administered after a member of the Prime Minister’s delegation received a positive test result, the statement said.
Mr Mulhall did not say whether Mr Martin had any symptoms.