President Biden canceled his face-to-face meetings with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin on Thursday after the prime minister received a positive result from a coronavirus test during a gala event in Washington attended by both men on Wednesday night.
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 the traditional St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Martin instead met virtually Thursday morning, with Mr. Biden sitting near a television monitor that showed Mr. Martin with a bowl of shamrock on a coffee table. The President said he “deeply regrets the inconvenience” for the virtual format.
White House officials said Mr Biden, who is 79 and was vaccinated and boosted, was not in close contact with Mr Martin during Wednesday’s gala, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes to be within six feet of define someone for at least 15 minutes. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Biden is tested weekly for the coronavirus and that his last test was on Sunday.
“Of course we follow his doctor’s recommendations and advice,” she said at a press conference on Thursday. “And if it came down to doing more testing, we certainly would. However, based on these recent contacts, he does not see the need to do so at this time.”
The prime minister’s test result came amid an outbreak of infections among officials in Washington in recent days. At least nine Democratic congressmen tested positive this week after a party pullout and late-night vote last week. Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, tested positive this week, as did former President Barack Obama.
White House officials have downplayed the recent spate of cases, noting that Washington’s overall rate is still extremely low. Ms Psaki said Thursday the new Omicron subvariant, known as BA.2, has been circulating across the country for some time, with the administration monitoring cases in Europe and China. New US cases have fallen sharply since the peak of the Omicron surge.
“We expect some volatility, especially at this relatively low level,” Ms Psaki said, adding that the country is in a better position to deal with the pandemic.
“It’s not gone, and it means we must continue to take steps to fight the virus,” she said.
About this data
Sources: State and local health authorities (cases, deaths); US Department of Health and Human Services (Hospitalizations).
Mr. Mulhall said on Twitter that he accepted a leadership award for Mr Martin at the Ireland Funds gala in Washington on Wednesday, an event also attended by Mr Biden and spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi.
“I stood up for the Taoiseach after he tested positive #Covid19‘ he wrote, using the Irish word for the country’s leader. “I wish the Taoiseach all the best in his recovery.”
The spokesman’s office confirmed Ms. Pelosi, who is vaccinated and boosted, tested negative on a PCR test Thursday morning and would continue regular testing and follow CDC guidelines, although it wasn’t clear which. It was unclear whether the treating doctor’s office considered Ms Pelosi, 81, a close contact.
Ms Pelosi, who was photographed sitting next to Mr Martin during the gala, appeared at her weekly news conference on Thursday and added that she was tested almost every day. Mr Martin remained masked until the meal was served, she said, and was pulled aside during the appetizer class because of his positive test.
“We are very, very sad that the Taoiseach on St. Patrick’s Day has this diagnosis,” she said at her indoor news conference, where she removed her mask to speak and answer questions. “We will not enjoy the honor of his presence.”
A planned luncheon – The Friends of Ireland Luncheon on Capitol Hill – took place on Thursday without Mr Martin being present. Ms Pelosi addressed the room, where lawmakers sat at round tables, while introducing Mr Biden, who was seated on a stool a few feet away. Neither of them wore a mask, and there were few face coverings in the room.
“America has been blessed by Irish children, and one of those Irish children is now the President of the United States,” Ms. Pelosi said just before they shook hands 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 early part of the gala and photos from the event emerged to show him seated next to Ms Pelosi.
A spokesman for the Irish government said in a statement on Thursday that the prime minister had tested negative for the virus on Wednesday and also on Sunday ahead of his trip to the United States.
His second test on Wednesday was carried out after a member of the prime minister’s delegation received a positive result on a test, the statement said.
Mr Mulhall did not elaborate on whether Mr Martin had symptoms.