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Irish prime minister tests positive for COVID a day before meeting with Biden

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Washington — Less than 24 hours before he was due for meetings at the White House, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin tested positive for COVID-19. Martin had been attending an event in Washington on Wednesday night when he received news of the positive result.  

President Biden was also at the same gala, and said Thursday that he had been near Martin for around seven and a half minutes. Both Martin, 61, and the president, 79, are vaccinated and boosted against the virus. 

White House spokesman Chris Meagher told CBS News the president "was not a close contact" of the Taoiseach. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines that a close contact has occurred when someone is "less than 6 feet away from an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period."

Martin had been scheduled to spend Thursday, St. Patrick's Day, with Mr. Biden at the White House and Capitol. The two leaders instead met virtually Thursday morning, and Martin will miss two other events later in the day.

"I did, at a little distance for seven and a half minutes, get to see you yesterday and your beautiful wife," Mr. Biden told Martin.

APTOPIX Biden US Ireland
President Biden meets virtually with Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, March 17, 2022, in Washington. Patrick Semansky / AP

When he tested positive, Martin and Mr. Biden were attending the Ireland Funds Gala at the National Building Museum, an annual black-tie charity event where Martin was to be honored with a leadership award.

Dozens of lawmakers attended the fundraiser. Martin was seated next to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Pelosi was scheduled to introduce Martin on stage, but at the conclusion of her remarks instead said he had left the event to attend an urgent meeting. Moments later, Irish Ambassador Daniel Mulhall walked on stage wearing an N95 mask and told the gala Martin had tested positive.

At her weekly press conference on Thursday, Pelosi said Martin had worn a mask until appetizers were served, at which point he took his off to eat. He was taken away during the appetizer course. A spokesman for Pelosi said Thursday that the speaker "will continue regular testing and follow CDC guidance."

According to an Irish government official, the Taoiseach took an antigen test around 5 p.m. Wednesday, which had come back negative. Later, when a member of his traveling delegation tested positive, the entire delegation was retested again with PCR tests "out of an abundance of caution." Martin's PCR test came back positive.

On Tuesday, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff tested positive for COVID-19.

Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this report.

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