MIAMI: President Donald Trump was forced on Friday (Jul 10) to cancel an election rally, further darkening his mood as he lashed out at China over the coronavirus pandemic while visiting one of the worst-hit US states.
As he jetted into Florida for a campaign fundraiser - ignoring health advice about the dangers of large gatherings - Trump warned of frayed ties with the Asian nation where the virus emerged late last year.
"(The) relationship with China has been severely damaged. They could have stopped the plague ... They didn't stop it," he told reporters on Air Force One.
The remarks escalate Trump's war of words with China, which he has repeatedly accused of a lack of transparency over the outbreak before the coronavirus exploded into a global pandemic. China denies the allegations.
Trump also signalled that a phase two trade deal with China was not a priority now and that he had "many other things" on his mind instead.
With polls showing him trailing Democrat Joe Biden, his rival in November's presidential election, Trump has intensified his schedule of public events in order to juice his base.
Trump had scheduled a Saturday rally in New Hampshire, a state he narrowly lost in 2016.
But the White House announced Friday that it was being postponed by "a week or two" due to a "big storm" expected over the US northeast this weekend.
Tropical Storm Fay provided a way out of another roiling controversy over health concerns surrounding the event, and the possibility of low interest in tickets.
But the postponement is a blow to Trump's efforts to return to his comfort zone: center stage on the campaign trail.
His last rally, in Tulsa, Oklahoma last month, was a flop and Republican officials will be looking to avoid a repeat of a ticket prank by K-pop fans that may have impacted attendance.
The United States is by far the country hardest hit by the virus, with more than 3.1 million confirmed infections and 133,000 dead.
COVID-19 has claimed more than 4,000 lives in Florida, where Republican Governor Ron DeSantis downplayed the outbreak early on but has since been forced to pause reopening.
The Sunshine State was among at least seven that set single-day case records on Thursday, alongside Texas, Alabama, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, and Oregon.
Florida and Texas also registered their highest daily death counts - 120 and 105 respectively.
"The tsunami is here," said Richard Cortez, chief executive of Hidalgo County in south Texas, after 1,274 cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours in the jurisdiction of fewer than 900,000 people.
By way of comparison, Melbourne in Australia, a city of five million, reimposed a lockdown after 191 tested positive in a day.
"As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don't think you can say we're doing great," Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease official, told political analysis website FiveThirtyEight on Thursday.
He partly blamed the atmosphere of political "divisiveness" in the country - for example the way masks were initially shunned by right-wing political leaders, many of whom have since shifted on the issue.
Trump hit out at the respected scientist, telling Fox News: "Dr Fauci is a nice man, but he's made a lot of mistakes."
"A lot of them said 'don't wear a mask, don't wear a mask,'" the president added. "Now they are saying 'wear a mask.' A lot of mistakes were made."
Biden has repeatedly attacked Trump for incompetently handling the outbreak, and he blasted the president's Florida visit.
"With over 232,000 cases in the state and over 4,000 deaths in Florida, it is clear that Trump's response - ignore, blame others, and distract - has come at the expense of Florida families," Biden said.
Trump's visit to Florida - where he meets with anti-narcotic officials and Venezuelan opposition leaders - comes as a new ABC News-Ipsos poll found that 67 per cent disapproved of his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
While Trump has pushed to hold large gatherings, epidemiologists have increasingly warned of the dangers posed by the virus in the air within crowded and confined spaces.
Unlike countries in Europe and Asia, the US never emerged from its first wave of COVID-19, and since mid-June has experienced a fresh surge.
This is because although the virus receded from former hotspots like New York, it returned hard in regions where officials eased lockdowns too early or where residents widely ignored health advice.
The administration has downplayed the spike, with Trump repeatedly and falsely attributing it entirely to higher levels of testing.