President Donald Trump kicked off the start of the American summer season on Saturday with his first golf outing in two months, underlining his push for a return to normal life in the United States.
As lockdowns ease across the country and the US leader ramps up his travels, Trump also confirmed he would attend a space launch in Florida next week.
As the US marked Memorial Day weekend — the country’s unofficial start of summer — Trump took a 35-minute drive from the White House to the Trump National club in Sterling, Virginia, in his first visit to a golf property since March 8.
US media captured footage of the president, an avid golfer before the coronavirus lockdown, on the course on the warm sunny day, dressed in a white shirt and dark trousers.
Neither Trump nor his three golf partners wore masks, though he rode alone in his golf cart, a CNN journalist reported.
White House coronavirus advisor Deborah Birx on Friday said that sports such as golf could be played safely if social distancing was in place and players didn’t touch flags.
But she also warned that the Washington area continued to have high positive test rates.
Trump, keen to find a way out of the coronavirus crisis and facing an uphill re-election battle, has ramped up pressure on state and local governments to ease lockdown measures.
On Friday, he demanded state governors classify churches, synagogues and mosques as “essential services” on the same level as food and drug stores, and immediately allow them to hold services.
The pandemic has hammered the American economy and led to a fierce debate over virus restrictions, even as COVID-19 numbers continue rising in parts of the United States — the worst-hit country in the world, with 1.6 million infections and more than 96,000 deaths.
Florida space launch
The White House on Saturday confirmed the president would also attend the May 27 launch in Florida of two astronauts on a SpaceX mission — the first crewed space flight from US soil in nine years.
“Our destiny, beyond the Earth, is not only a matter of national identity, but a matter of national security,” Trump said in a statement.
Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are scheduled to blast off from Kennedy Space Center at 4:33 pm (2033 GMT) on Wednesday for the International Space Station, arriving the next day.
The mission is seen as a crucial step towards ending American dependence on Russian rockets.
Asked about going ahead with the mission in the midst of the pandemic, Behnken told reporters: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Behnken and Hurley have been in strict quarantine since May 13, but they said their actual isolation began as far back as mid-March.
Hurley said he and Behnken have been tested twice for COVID-19.
American astronauts have been flying to the ISS, which currently houses two Russians and one American, on Russian rockets since the US space shuttle program was shelved in 2011.
A successful SpaceX mission would mean the United States had achieved its goal of no longer having to buy seats on Russian Soyuz rockets.
However, the Wednesday launch plan could be hit by bad weather, with a 60 percent chance of a postponement, according to official forecasts.