Biden appears to be only world leader to wear a mask at virtual climate summit

Leaders who could be seen without masks included Putin, Merkel, Erdogan, and EU bigwigs von der Leyen and Michel

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Friday 23 April 2021 15:27 BST
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US President Joe Biden appeared to be the only world leader wearing a mask during a virtual climate summit hosted by the White House.

Leaders who could be seen maskless on the call Friday included Russian president Vladimir Putin, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and EU leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel. Mr Biden may have been wearing a mask to protect others in close proximity, and to model mask-wearing for Americans.

Mr Biden kicked off the proceedings of the two-day summit on Thursday by unveiling a new pledge to cut US emissions in half by 2030. But activists from Extinction Rebellion were unimpressed by his “bull****” plans, dumping cow manure near the White House in protest.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates thanked Mr Biden during the summit “for re-establishing America’s leading role on climate change”.

“This is a promising moment. Climate activists and young people especially are bringing amazing energy and attention to this issue. They are demanding action and rightly so,” Mr Gates said.

Mr Biden has led a push for Americans to wear masks to stem the spread of Covid-19, instituting a 100-day mask challenge as he entered office. He has dutifully been wearing masks when he appears in public and signed an executive order to mandate mask-wearing on federal properties on his first day in the White House.

More than 100 countries had issued nationwide mask mandates by August of 2020, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The US was not among those countries as a CNN fact check in November of 2020 stated: “There appears to be no legal authority that would allow a US president to enact a nationwide mask mandate.”

The first countries to issue national mask mandates as the pandemic was speeding up last spring were Vietnam and the Czech Republic.

Former CDC Director Robert Redfield called masks “one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus”. But the president Dr Redfield served under, Donald Trump, repeatedly ridiculed masks and refused to wear one for a long time.

Mr Trump first wore a mask in July 2020, but despite that the president himself was infected with the virus in early October, many of his supporters have remained sceptical about wearing face coverings.

Research is increasingly showing that the risk of transmitting Covid-19 while being outside is very low.

CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky told NBC on Thursday: “We’ll be looking at the outdoor masking question, but also in the context of the fact that we still have people who are dying of Covid-19.”

Dr Ashish Jha at the Brown University School of Public Health told the outlet: “We know that the virus largely spreads indoors and there’s very little transmission outdoors, except in some very specific circumstances.

“At this point in the pandemic, with more than half of Americans vaccinated, it’s pretty reasonable to start thinking about peeling back outdoor mask mandates.”

Dr Jha said that masks are still necessary during large gatherings outdoors, such as rallies or sports events, but that “requiring everybody walking down the street to wear one is probably not needed”.

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