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Irish PM’s White House meeting goes virtual after positive Covid test

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US President Joe Biden meets virtually with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin in the Oval Office./AFP
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Mar 18, 2022 - 04:03 AM

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and Ireland’s prime minister Micheal Martin canceled plans to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day together in the White House on Thursday and switched to a virtual meeting after Martin tested positive for Covid-19, although the US president was said to be in no danger.

The planned Oval Office session between Martin and Biden was dropped for a video-link one after the Irish leader, whose position is known as the Taoiseach, had to pull out.

Martin had been due to join Biden again at an annual Saint Patrick’s Day ceremony in the White House, where the Irish premier presents the US president with a bowl of shamrock grown in Ballinskelligs, southwest Ireland. Instead, the shamrock was delivered directly to the Oval Office and Biden will host the later event without the Taoiseach, the White House said.

In the Oval Office, Biden told Martin he was “deeply sorry” they couldn’t meet in person and praised Ireland’s contribution to a massive Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Martin, jokingly pointing out that he was talking to Biden from a guest house right across the street from the White House, lauded Biden’s “leadership” on Russia “and particularly your capacity to marshal like-minded democracies.”

Biden not a ‘close contact’ 

Late Wednesday, Martin was pictured sitting next to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Ireland Funds Gala event at the National Building Museum in Washington. He left shortly after, due to a positive PCR test.

Biden was at the same dinner, but a White House official said that Biden was not considered to have been at risk and hadn’t been tested.

“He is not a close contact, so testing cadence would not change,” the official said.

An Irish government spokesman said Martin’s positive test followed two negative tests, including one earlier Wednesday.

“A further test was carried out when one of the Taoiseach’s delegation received a positive test, which resulted in a later positive result for the Taoiseach,” the spokesman said.

Ireland’s ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall tweeted that he had given the Taoiseach’s speech for him after he left Wednesday’s dinner and “I wish the Taoiseach well for his recovery.”

In his own speech at the gala, Biden spoke of his Irish roots, saying “I inherited my mother’s side of the family’s overwhelming pride, overwhelming pride in being Irish.”

Martin, who is staying at the White House guest facilities, Blair House, “is feeling well and is currently self-isolating on public health advice,” the Irish government said.

It was unclear how his positive result will affect the rest of his schedule in the US or his return to Ireland, which will on Sunday hold a national day of remembrance to commemorate those who died during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is the second high-profile Covid positive case close to Biden in just days.

On Tuesday, the White House said that Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, had a positive test, but that Harris and Biden were unaffected.

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