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Trump eyes return to rallies Saturday after doctor says COVID-19 therapy completed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Thursday he may return to the campaign trail with a rally on Saturday after the White House physician said he had completed his course of therapy for the novel coronavirus and could resume public events.

In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump said he was likely to take a test for the coronavirus on Friday after testing positive for it a week ago. The White House has declined to say when the president last tested negative for COVID-19.

The president, who sounded hoarse, said he was looking at further campaign events in the coming days, including a rally in Florida on Saturday and in Pennsylvania on Sunday.

“Really good,” Trump said when asked in the evening interview how he was feeling. “I think I’m going to try doing a rally on Saturday night ... if we have enough time to put it together.”

The White House physician, Sean Conley, said earlier on Thursday that Trump had completed his course of therapy for the disease, had remained stable since returning to the White House from a military hospital on Monday, and could resume public engagements on Saturday.

Conley said in a memo released by the White House that Trump had responded “extremely well” to treatment without any evidence of adverse effects.

“Since returning home, his physical exam has remained stable and devoid of any indications to suggest progression of illness,” Conley wrote. “Saturday will be day 10 since Thursday’s diagnosis, and based on the trajectory of advanced diagnostics the team has been conducting, I fully anticipate the President’s safe return to public engagements at that time.”

U.S. President Donald Trump makes an announcement about his treatment for coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Washington, U.S., in this still image taken from video, October 7, 2020. The White House/Handout via REUTERS

Trump, confined to the White House with the illness that he has sought to play down, has been itching to restart campaign events as he trails Democratic candidate Joe Biden in polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

The president has been criticized both for his administration’s handling of the pandemic and for his response to his own diagnosis.

PULLS OUT OF DEBATE

Earlier on Thursday, Trump said he did not believe he was contagious and was feeling good enough to resume campaign rallies.

Trump has held such rallies indoors and outdoors with thousands of people, many of whom do not wear masks, against the advice of public health professionals.

“I’d love to do a rally tonight. I wanted to do one last night,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business Network on Thursday morning.

The president’s positive test sidelined him from in-person events that have been the lifeblood of his campaign.

Trump pulled out of a second debate with Biden after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the Oct. 15 event would be held in a virtual format, with the candidates in separate locations, to ensure it could go forward whether or not Trump remained virus-free.

Trump has faced criticism for underestimating the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work. Even since revealing his own illness on Friday, Trump has played down the respiratory disease’s dangers and been censured by social media platforms for spreading misinformation about it.

"I think this was a blessing from God that I caught it. This was a blessing in disguise," Trump said in a video posted to his Twitter account on Wednesday, adding that his use of an experimental medication from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc REGN.O had allowed him to experience first-hand how effective it could be.

He said he would make the treatment available free of charge, but did not say how he would do that or who would pay the cost of the treatments. The United States is reporting more than 44,000 new infections each day.

The interviews on the Fox networks were conducted over the phone. Other than videos released on his Twitter account, Trump has not been seen in public since he arrived back at the White House from the hospital on Monday night.

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and and Phil Stewart; editing by Grant McCool and Raju Gopalakrishnan

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