March 16, 2020 / 12:45 AM / in 13 days

FACTBOX-'Bigger than any one of us': Biden, Sanders focus on coronavirus in debate

WASHINGTON, March 15 (Reuters) - Democratic presidential contenders Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders faced off on Sunday in their first one-on-one debate, a key moment before votes in four states on Tuesday that could give Biden an insurmountable lead in the party’s White House race.

The former vice president and the U.S. senator from Vermont initially focused their discussion on the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused them to rethink their campaign tactics and moved the debate to Washington rather than Arizona.

Here are key quotes:

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN

“This is bigger than any one of us, this calls for a national rallying,” Biden said, citing his plan released last week that “laid out in detail what I would do if I were president today.”

“First of all, we have to take care of those who are in fact exposed or likely to be exposed to the virus,” Biden said, adding the country should immediately begin figuring out how to add to hospitals’ capacity to treat patients.

Biden rejected the idea that a Medicare for All healthcare system - which Sanders supports but he does not - would address the virus, saying: “What is it we need? Listen to the experts. And with all due respect to Medicare for All, you have a single-payer system in Italy, it doesn’t work there, it has nothing to do with Medicare for All, that would not settle the problem at all.”

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS

“First thing we have got to do ... is to shut this president up right now because he’s undermining the doctors and the scientists who are trying to help the American people right now,” Sanders said, referring to Republican President Donald Trump, who will face the winner of the Democratic nomination in November. “It is unacceptable to have him be blabbering with unfactual information which is confusing the general public.”

Sanders said the outbreak showed the need for the Medicare for All system he has advocated throughout the campaign and would replace private health insurance.

“Let’s be honest and understand that this coronavirus pandemic exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality of our current healthcare system. ... We are spending so much money and yet we are not even prepared for this pandemic.” (Reporting by Amanda Becker and Simon Lewis; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

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