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Trump defends his golf playing as tens of thousands of Americans head to beach for long weekend

Rozina Sabur
Revelers celebrate Memorial Day weekend at Osage Beach of the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri - Twitter/Lawler50 /Reuters

Donald Trump has defended his decision to flout official social distancing guidelines to play golf during a long weekend to remember America's war dead, saying his "little exercise" had been portrayed as "a mortal sin". 

Mr Trump drew criticism after he was pictured without a mask and shaking hands while playing golf in Virginia on Memorial Day weekend as the US coronavirus death toll approached 100,000.

In a tweet on Monday, the US president wrote: "Some stories about the fact that in order to get outside and perhaps, even a little exercise, I played golf over the weekend. The Fake & Totally Corrupt News makes it sound like a mortal sin - I knew this would happen!" He went on to add that it was his first game of golf in almost three months.

Meanwhile Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, made his first in-person appearance in more than two months on Monday as he marked Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a veterans park near his Delaware home.

Mr Biden opted to wear a mask, in contrast to Mr Trump. "I feel great to be out here," Mr Biden told reporters through his black cloth mask. His visit to the park was unannounced and there was no crowd waiting for him.

Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden, leave Delaware Memorial Bridge Veteran's Memorial Park - AFP

Tens of thousands of Americans across the country have been pictured flouting social distancing advice to sunbathe on beaches and enjoy barbecues during the three day weekend which marks the start of summer in the US.

Dr Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said she was "very concerned" about scenes of people crowding together. In the Tampa area along Florida's Gulf Coast, the crowds were so big that authorities closed parking lots to stem the flood. 

Footage of one particular gathering which saw dozens of partygoers packing pools and bars in the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri went viral online, leading the mayor of the small town to confess he had "no way to control" the crowds. 

Beach goers in Southern Californian - Shutterstock 

John Olivarri, the mayor of Osage Beach, estimated that similar large parties had been held in at least a dozen other locations. “My concern is for our workers and whether some of the folks that have come down might be creating a health problem for the community,” he told the Kansas City Star.

“But the only other thing that you could do would be shut it down. I don’t know how you would shut down Lake of the Ozarks. There’s no way to control that.”

All 50 states have relaxed coronavirus restrictions to some degree, with many southern states reopening most businesses. This has led to fears of a second wave of cases, with 11 states reporting a record number of new COVID-19 cases last week.

Mr Trump made Memorial Day appearances at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, where he will laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and spoke at a historic fort in Baltimore.

"Together we will vanquish the virus and America will rise from this crisis to new and even greater heights," Mr Trump said during the ceremony at Fort McHenry. "No obstacle, no challenge and no threat is a match for the sheer determination of the American people."

Baltimore's mayor had criticised Mr Trump's visit, arguing the city could not afford the costs and the trip sends the wrong message when Baltimore is still under a stay-at-home order.

This year the commemorative day has also become a time to mourn the victims of the coronavirus pandemic, as the US fast approaches 100,000 deaths from the disease.

To mark the somber milestone, the New York Times filled its entire front page with the names and selected details of 1,000 victims on Sunday.

"We were trying to capture that personal toll," said Marc Lacey, the newspaper's national editor, told Reuters. "We were trying to humanise these numbers which keep growing and have reached such unfathomable heights that they're really hard to grasp any more.

"This is about everyday people. It's about a death toll, reaching a number that's really just jaw-dropping."