Even in a year of relentless, grim newsflashes, word that Trump, 74, had contracted the virus jolted foreign governments, roiled global markets and captivated the attention of a pandemic-stricken world.
Trump allies, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted messages of support.
“Like millions of Israelis, Sara and I are thinking of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump and wish our friends a full and speedy recovery,” Netanyahu tweeted.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also sent well wishes to Trump, telling him: “I am confident that your vital energy, high spirits, and optimism will help you cope with the dangerous virus,” according to Russian state media. The Kremlin said this week that Putin plans to be vaccinated against the coronavirus with an experimental Russian vaccine soon.
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, who developed a close relationship with Trump and has met him three times, sent the U.S. president a “message of sympathy” and expressed hope he and the first lady would recover “as soon as possible,” state media reported.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi also sent words of encouragement to the couple.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal, meanwhile, struck a more critical tone. He wished the president a “swift recovery,” while speaking on French TV channel LCI, but also called Trump’s positive test result “a sign that the virus spares no one, including those who are the most skeptical about its reality and gravity."
Others had sharper words for the president.
“Mr. President … I suggest that you do not try to treat yourself with bleach,” tweeted Radoslaw Sikorski, a European Parliament member and former Polish foreign minister, referencing Trump’s earlier suggestions that disinfectants could serve a role as a possible treatment against the virus.
“President Trump and the first lady have paid the price for his gamble to play down the COVID-19,” tweeted Hu Xijin, the editor in chief of the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-controlled newspaper. Trump has repeatedly attacked China for its handling of the pandemic, which first emerged in the city of Wuhan late last year.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) tweeted Friday that “China gave this virus” to the Trumps, adding, “WE MUST HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE. ”
But the Chinese Foreign Ministry took a softer tone. Spokeswoman Hua Chunying tweeted that she was “saddened” to learn of the couple’s diagnoses. “Hope they both have a speedy recovery and will be fine,” she wrote.
Chinese officials may see Trump having contracted the virus after spending months playing it down as a dose of “poetic justice," said Jude Blanchette, the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The news could serve as kindling for the Chinese Communist Party’s messaging that democratic institutions have failed to handle the global crisis, he said. But Trump’s diagnosis just ahead of the U.S. election also “throws up a number of volatilities and variables which Beijing would rather not deal with right now."
World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sent the president “best wishes,” despite Trump accusing the body of “severely mismanaging” the coronavirus outbreak. Earlier this year, Trump announced he planned to permanently cut U.S. funding to the WHO, describing their response to the pandemic as being too “China-centric. ”
Some observers worried Trump’s diagnosis could add further instability to an already divisive election season.
In a headline Friday, Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper asked if Trump’s illness was “a turning point for the campaign.”
Thomas Wright, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, said that foreign governments will be watching closely as more details emerge about Trump’s prognosis.
European leaders have been focused on “what scenarios could create real instability after the election,” he said. But Trump’s positive test result “adds in something very dramatic” even before Americans head to the polls.
Following this week’s fiery presidential debate between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, others questioned what the president’s positive diagnosis meant for the health of others who had come into recent contact with him or the first lady.
But thus far, few European policymakers appeared to see a need to take hasty action.
One senior European security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid in assessing the situation in the White House, said that the larger concerns continue to swirl over what will happen if the results of next month’s election are close or unclear.
Trump has faced widespread criticism abroad over his handling of the pandemic. Foreign researchers have repeatedly accused the Trump administration of failing to adequately take into account scientific advice in its coronavirus response. More people have died of the virus in the United States than anywhere else in the world, with deaths continuing to climb past the 207,000 mark.
Trump did not don a mask in public for the first time until July, after months of downplaying their importance in the global effort to slow transmission. He has also mocked Biden for wearing a face covering.
“Nobody is immune from #COVID19,” the United Nations Office for disaster risk reduction, tweeted Friday, in response to Trump’s positive test.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is fourth in the presidential line of succession, is wrapping up a five-day trip to Europe, where he has traveled to Greece, Italy and Croatia.
Pompeo has more consistently worn a mask when appearing in public than Trump. He said he was last with Trump on Sept. 15 and on Friday announced that he and his wife, Susan, had both tested negative for the virus.
Trump has joined a growing list of world leaders who have fallen ill with the virus. Johnson, who survived a severe bout of the illness, also initially downplayed the threat of the pandemic. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, 65, tested positive for the virus in July but experienced a much milder case. He has referred to the virus as “a little cold” and minimized the necessity of masks in reducing transmission, even as cases rose exponentially in Brazil.
As of Friday afternoon, Bolsonaro had not offered Trump any public messages of support.
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is 84 and spent 10 days in the hospital battling the illness last month, said in statement after Trump’s diagnosis that the disease “can be overcome with appropriate and courageous actions.” After Berlusconi’s release from the hospital, he called the experience “the most dangerous challenge of my life” and urged people to wear masks.
Noack reported from Berlin. Antonia Noori Farzan and Carol Morello in Washington, Michael Birnbaum in Riga, Latvia, Isabelle Khurshudyan in Moscow, Chico Harlan in Rome, Simon Denyer in Tokyo, and Terrence McCoy in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.
This report has been updated.