Joe Biden, at 9/11 ceremony, returns to strong suit: personal rapport
Joe Biden (AFP)

Joe Biden attended a 9/11 ceremony in New York Friday where he interacted closely with relatives of victims, a departure from the US presidential candidate's more distanced campaign style of recent months prompted by concerns over the coronavirus.

The Democratic nominee's encounters, including snapping selfies with a child and talking closely with military personnel, revealed a candidate slowly edging back into his element, as a politician who thrives on personal interaction and expressing empathy with fellow Americans.

During a break in the Ground Zero ceremony Biden approached Maria Fisher, 90 years old and seated, who showed him a photograph of her son Andrew who died in the World Trade Center north tower.

"Never goes away," Biden told her as the pair, both wearing masks, discussed the pain of losing their sons.

"God bless you Joe!" someone said as the former vice president accepted a white rose from his wife Jill and presented it to Fisher.

Biden, 77, has been scarred by tragedy in his own life. His first wife and their daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972, and he lost his son Beau to cancer in 2015.

The setbacks have made him an empathetic presence on the campaign trail, where he has often been seen whispering in a voter's ear or consoling a struggling parent.

But for the past several months he has largely foregone such encounters, opting instead to deliver speeches in a controlled setting where the number of guests is strictly limited.

Such campaign appearances stand in stark contrast to those of President Donald Trump, who has barely toned down his raucous rallies during the pandemic era.

On Thursday in Michigan, thousands of supporters, most without masks, crowded into a partially open-air hangar to see the president speak.

During Friday's New York ceremony Biden stood just a few feet from Vice President Mike Pence, with whom he chatted and shared an elbow bump, and also stood close to Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Chuck Schumer.

Biden bent down for a selfie with a boy, and stood just inches from a masked military man in a purple beret as the two talked.

Last week in Wisconsin and on Thursday in Michigan Biden met with small groups of voters, but most were seated and observed social distancing guidelines.