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People cast their ballots at an early voting location at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, in North Charleston, S.C., on Oct. 16, 2020.

LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Friday attacked President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as a leading researcher warned the death toll could more than double over the next four months.

Mr. Biden, 77, spoke from his home city of Wilmington, Del., ahead of a campaign trip by Mr. Trump, 74, to the battleground state of Florida with just 11 days left in the campaign.

While Election Day is scheduled for Nov. 3, more than 52 million Americans have already voted, a record-setting pace that suggests a record turnout, according to University of Florida’s Elections Project.

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The surge of early voting points to both intense interest in Mr. Trump’s fate and a population eager to avoid risking exposure in Election Day crowds to COVID-19, the disease that has already killed more than 221,000 people in the United States and cost millions their jobs.

Me. Biden blasted Mr. Trump’s response to the pandemic.

“He’s quit on America. He just wants us to grow numb,” Mr. Biden said in a speech. He said that if he wins the election he will ask Congress to pass a comprehensive COVID-19 response legislation and send it to him to sign into law within the first 10 days he takes office.

“I’m not going to shut down the economy. I’m not going to shut down the country. I’m going to shut down the virus,” he said.

In a reminder of COVID-19′s accelerated spread as winter approaches, researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation warned the virus could kill more than half a million people in the United States by the end of February, 2021.

They said that roughly 130,000 lives could be saved if everybody wore masks, according to a study released on Friday.

Mr. Trump has defended his handling of the health crisis, saying the worst was over. He has accused Mr. Biden and other Democrats of overreacting to the threat and damaging the economy.

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Some 52.6 million Americans have already cast ballot, representing 22 per cent of all eligible voters.

Michael McDonald of the University of Florida’s Elections Project and other experts predict the election could set a modern turnout record, surpassing the 60-per-cent participation rate of recent presidential elections.

The massive early-vote total gives the Republican Trump less leeway to change minds before voting concludes. Opinion polls show him trailing Mr. Biden both nationally and, by a narrower margin, in several battleground states that will decide who sits in the White House on Jan. 20, 2021.

Mr. Trump said those polls underestimated his support. “I think we’re leading in a lot of states you don’t know about,” he told reporters at the White House.

Republican campaign manager Bill Stepien said the race was tightening in Minnesota and said the campaign would buy more television advertising there. Opinion polls show Mr. Biden leading in the state.

Americans may have to wait days or weeks to know who won as election officials count tens of millions of mail-in votes.

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A final debate with Mr. Biden on Thursday offered Mr. Trump a chance to reverse his fortunes, but analysts said it was unlikely to alter the race in any fundamental way.

Preliminary estimates showed that fewer people watched the debate than their first debate in September.

Mr. Trump has frequently assailed absentee voting, which is surging in the pandemic, as unreliable, and his campaign has fought states' efforts to expand a practice that analysts say is as secure as any other method.

Mr. Trump himself has voted by mail in past elections, but plans to vote in person in Florida on Saturday, the White House said.

Vice-President Mike Pence cast his early ballot in Indianapolis on Friday.

Democrats have cast roughly five million more votes than Republicans so far, though their margin has shrunk in recent days, according to TargetSmart, a Democratic analytics firm.

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Democratic analysts say they are cheered by those numbers but caution that they expect a late surge of Republican votes on Election Day.

Republican strategists say strong in-person turnout in Florida, North Carolina and Iowa gives them hope that Trump can win those battleground states again this year.

“It’s really, really hard to compare this to anything,” Democratic strategist Steve Schale told reporters. “Everything’s up from 2016.”

In Texas, a traditionally Republican state that has been growing more competitive, turnout has already reached 71 per cent of the 2016 total, according to McDonald’s figures. It has reached 50 per cent in three southern battleground states: Georgia, North Carolina and Florida.

Election officials in battleground states like Pennsylvania are scrambling to minimize the possibility of a disputed outcome.

Both candidates have showered attention on Florida, where a Reuters/Ipsos poll this week found Biden moving into a slight lead after being in a statistical tie a week earlier.

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Trump will travel to Florida on Friday to hold rallies in the Villages, a sprawling retirement centre, and Pensacola, in the state’s heavily Republican panhandle.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week found Mr. Biden moving into a slight lead after the two candidates were tied a week earlier.

Former president Barack Obama, with whom Mr. Biden served as vice-president for eight years, will campaign in Florida on Saturday.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden faced off in their final debate on Oct. 22 in a last-ditch effort to win over the few remaining undecided voters just 12 days before the U.S. election. Gloria Tso reports. Reuters

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