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Biden backs nationwide shutdown to slow coronavirus

Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, at a campaign event in Las Vegas, Feb. 14, 2020.
Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, at a campaign event in Las Vegas, Feb. 14, 2020.BRIDGET BENNETT/NYT

Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden said Friday he would urge governors nationwide to close down all non-essential activities in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

“For the time being, I would, yes,” Biden said during a town hall on CNN. “You don’t know who doesn’t have the virus, so a lot of people walking around looking like they’re pretty healthy, and they may very well have the virus and transmit it.”

The former vice president added: “Why would we not err on the side of making sure we are not going to have a repeat?”

President Trump had initially suggested he wanted to “re-open America” by April 12, Easter Sunday, though that was criticized as unrealistic. He has since said he’d only “like” that to happen to limit damage to the economy.

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Biden spoke after Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates recommended Thursday that the whole country “shut down” for six to 10 weeks and increase testing to come close to eradicating coronavirus. Biden didn’t offer quite as long a timeline, though.

‘Small Price’

“Two weeks in what is going to be a long fight to deal with this is a small price to pay, especially since you can compensate people for the lost time now that, in fact, the legislation has been passed by the Congress,” he said, referring to the $2 trillion stimulus package enacted by Congress and signed by Trump on Friday.

Biden said he’s in favor of additional support for people who lose their jobs and are not made whole by the increase in unemployment benefits that was included in the stimulus package.

“I would make it a rent freeze for at least the next three months. Freeze it and forgive it,” he said. “No one should be evicted during this period. Period.”

He also said he “absolutely” supports a moratorium on the shutoff of utilities for people who aren’t able to pay their bills in the coming months. “I’d do it nationwide,” he said.

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Offering support to anyone with ailing loved ones or who have lost someone, Biden almost gave out his personal phone number on national television.

‘Contact My Campaign’

“The human connection is so, so profoundly important. And when you don’t have it, you got to get help. And, by the way, call,” he said. He paused, then added: “I’m not going to give my phone number. But anyway, those who have been through that, you can contact my campaign. I’m happy to try to talk to you. Not that I’m an expert but just having been there, I’m so sorry for you.”

Biden said he had spoken recently with several governors to discuss the response to the virus. He also urged Trump to stop battling with some of them. “This is not personal. It has nothing to do with you, Donald Trump. Nothing to do with you. Do your job. Stop personalizing everything,” Biden said.