Donald Trump refuses to take part in virtual presidential debate against Joe Biden

Donald Trump has said he will not take part in a virtual debate with Joe Biden after the Commission on Presidential Debates made a change to the format following his Covid-19 diagnosis. 

On Thursday, the non-partisan organisation said it made the decision in order to "protect the health and safety of all involved".

It said the debate, scheduled for October 15, would take the form of a "town meeting", in which the candidates "participate from separate remote locations".

Moments after the announcement, Trump told Fox News that the arrangement was “not acceptable".

“I'm not gonna waste my time... sit behind a computer, ridiculous. I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” he said. He also accused moderators of trying to protect Joe Biden.

Donald Trump Jr echoed his father's claims, tweeting that the Commission's decision sounded like "a big load of crap to help Joe Biden".

Trump’s campaign manager insisted that the president will stage a rally rather than debate.

“For the swamp creatures at the Presidential Debate Commission to now rush to Joe Biden’s defence by unilaterally cancelling an in-person debate is pathetic,” Bill Stepien, Trump campaign manager, said in a statement.

Donald and Melania Trump at the first presidential debate - they both tested positive for Covid-19 48 hours later. Credit: Patrick Semansky/AP

“The safety of all involved can easily be achieved without cancelling a chance for voters to see both candidates go head to head. We’ll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead.”

Meanwhile, Biden said it’d be “irresponsible” for him to comment on the Trump campaign's reaction.

“We don’t know what the president’s going to do. He changes his mind every second and could ultimately end up debating anyway,” Biden said while boarding a flight to campaign in Arizona.

Deputy Biden campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement. “Vice President Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people.”

Biden spokesman Andrew Bates went further, tweeting, “Unsurprisingly, one candidate is leading while the other is whining.”

“Americans are sacrificing and suffering because of Donald Trump’s failed response, but yet again in his weakness he’s proving that he only cares about himself - not even his supporters,” Bates added.

A Biden aide said it would be up to the debate organisers to decide whether the former vice president would get a 90-minute broadcast to himself. 

President Trump and his wife Melania tested positive for coronavirus last Thursday, just 48 hours after debating Biden in person for the first time.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump left Walter Reed hospital after three nights of treatment for Covid-19.

He also said he planned to attend the second debate with Mr Biden, when it was due to be face-to-face. “It will be great!” he tweeted.

An in-person vice-presidential debate took place on Wednesday. Sitting VP Mike Pence and Democratic Senator Kamala Harris sat apart, separated by plexi-glass shields.

Should the second debate take place virtually, it would not be the first in which the candidates are not in the same room. In 1960, the third presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy was broadcast with the two candidates on opposite coasts.