As Pandemic Worsens, Biden Unveils Ambitious COVID-19 Strategy

Healthcare workers attend to a patient at the Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Hospital Del Mar in Barcelona on January 20, 2021. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

 

Joe Biden’s administration unveiled a detailed COVID-19 roadmap Thursday to boost vaccinations and testing while centering scientific expertise, after the new US president warned during his inaugural speech the pandemic was entering its “deadliest period.” 

Officials said Biden would immediately sign 10 executive orders and other directives to jumpstart the national strategy, which experts said was sorely missing under his predecessor Donald Trump.

The US is the world’s hardest-hit country with more than 405,000 deaths, and government models suggest the B.1.1.7 variant imported from Britain could supercharge the outbreak’s trajectory in the coming months.

“For almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy, let alone a comprehensive approach to respond to Covid,” Jeff Zients, a former management consultant who is Biden’s new Covid-19 task force coordinator, told reporters.

“As president Biden steps into office today, that all changes,” he added.

Biden’s presidency will initially be shaped by his response to Covid-19 and the associated economic emergency.

Whereas Trump seldom acknowledged the tragic toll the virus was inflicting on Americans, Biden paused in his inaugural address — which the public was essentially barred from attending due to the pandemic — to offer a moment’s silent prayer for its victims.

– ‘Restoring trust’ –
The plan has organized goals like restoring the trust of the American people, surging the vaccination campaign, and mitigating viral spread through aggressive masking and testing, while expanding the public health workforce.

It also seeks to expand emergency relief and invoke emergency legislation to increase industrial production; safely reopen schools, businesses and travel; protect the most vulnerable and advance racial equity; and restore US global leadership with future pandemic preparedness.

The administration is seeking $1.9 trillion from Congress for its plans, which includes $20 billion for vaccines and $50 billion for testing.

Taken as a whole, the strategy amounts to a more closely coordinated approach than that of the previous administration, which sidelined key agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sought to censor recommendations by prominent scientists, and said individual states should do what seems right for them.

Some of the measures were already announced in recent days, including recommending that the eligibility criteria for vaccine priority groups be widened and simplified in order to increase the rate of shots being injected.

As it stands, the federal government has overseen the allocation of 35.9 million doses to states, of which 16.5 million have been used — or 46 percent.

The figure is well below targets set by the Trump administration, but the administration rate has been steadily ticking up in recent days.

– Vaccine blitz –
New White House vaccines coordinator Bechara Choucair restated the administration’s intention to bring online thousands of federal vaccination centers as well as the mobilization of thousands more workers to help.

These plans would bring the financial and logistical clout of the federal government in the fight against the virus — again, an element that had largely been missing.

The administration will also continue the policy of rolling out vaccine doses for Pfizer and Moderna’s two-shot regimes as soon as they become available.

The Trump team had initially set aside the booster as reserve, but later changed course after running low on supply.

Executive orders would also be advanced to establish a pandemic testing board, to boost research efforts into treatments, and create a Health Equity Task Force.

This group, headed by Yale associate professor Marcella Nunez-Smith, will advise the president on allocating resources and funding in communities affected by inequities linked to race, geography and disability.

The administration also plans to invoke the Defense Production Act to boost supply of personal protective equipment, lab equipment and to maximize vaccine production.

Tim Manning, who will coordinate supply chain issues, told reporters he had identified 12 supply shortfalls where the law could be invoked.

Biden’s team has relentlessly criticized the Trump administration in recent weeks over its failure in particular to adequately plan for the last mile of its Covid response and get vaccines developed at record speed into arms.

An early test will be whether they achieve their own goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans within Biden’s first 100 days in office, by April 20.

Biden Says Trump Vaccine Plan Falling ‘Far Behind’

This combination of pictures created on September 29, 2020 shows Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden (L) and US President Donald Trump speaking during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29, 2020.
JIM WATSON, SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

US President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday vowed a relentless effort to fight COVID-19 the moment he takes office, as he warned that Donald Trump’s vaccination drive was falling dangerously short.

Speaking after a briefing by experts, Biden promised that as president he will undertake the “greatest operational challenge we’ve ever faced as a nation” to inoculate against the illness that has claimed more than 1.7 million lives globally.

“The Trump administration’s plan to distribute vaccines is falling far behind,” Biden said, promising: “I’m going to move Heaven and Earth to get us going in the right direction.”

The Trump administration had predicted that 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by the end of December.

With less than three days left, some 2.1 million have received the first shot of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden, who takes office on January 20, confirmed that he would invoke the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to force private industry to step up vaccine production for the government.

He also implored Americans to wear masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and said he would impose a mandate on face covers in areas where the federal government has jurisdiction, such as airplanes.

“We’re planning a whole-of-government effort and we’re going to work to set up vaccination sites and send mobile units to hard-to-reach communities,” Biden said,

“We’re going to make sure vaccines are distributed equitably so every person can get one, no matter the color of their skin and where they live.”

He voiced confidence of a return to normality in 2021 — but not immediately.

“We might not see improvement until we’re well into March as it will take time for our Covid response plan to begin to produce visible progress,” Biden said.

“The next few weeks and months are going to be very tough — a very tough period for our nation, maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic.”

Biden Celebrates His 78th Birthday

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 16, 2020, US President-elect Joe Biden answers questions from the press in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

 

President-elect Joe Biden turned 78 on Friday, exactly two months before he is to succeed Donald Trump in the White House.

Barack Obama’s former vice president is to be sworn in on January 20, becoming the oldest president in US history.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Out Approaches As US Closes Early For Holidays

Biden’s team did not announce any particular birthday celebration for Friday.

His schedule for the day includes a meeting in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate.

President-Elect Biden Calls For Unity, Reconciliation. Says It’s Time For Healing

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 7, 2020, after being declared the winner of the presidential election. PHOTO: ANGELA WEISS / AFP

 

President-elect Joe Biden has called for unity and promised “a new day for America” in his first national address since he won the tense US election and ended the era of Donald Trump.

After jogging onto the outdoor stage to the music of Bruce Springsteen in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, Biden delivered a message of hope and healing to a crowd of cheering supporters and tens of millions more on television.

The Democrat’s victory speech followed an election conducted in the midst of a raging coronavirus pandemic. But instead of sounding triumphant, Biden’s accent was more on changing hearts in a country split down the middle between Democrats and Republicans.

US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris stand with spouses Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff after delivering remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 7, 2020, after being declared the winners of the presidential election.
Jim WATSON / AFP

 

Promising “not to divide but unify,” Biden reached out directly to Trump supporters, declaring “they’re not our enemies, they’re Americans.”

“Let’s give each other a chance,” he said, urging the country to “lower the temperature.”

“Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end, here and now.”

Casting his eye further, Biden said he would “make America respected around the world again” — a reference to Trump’s tearing up of traditional diplomatic ties.

“Tonight, the whole world is watching America and I believe that at our best America is a beacon for the globe,” he said.

Addressing the coronavirus, which has killed more than 237,000 Americans under Trump’s erratic leadership, Biden said he would form a task force of “leading scientists” this Monday.

 

Fireworks

While attendance was limited for social distancing purposes to about 360 cars at the drive-in style event, crowds numbering thousands of people, many of them dancing and waving American flags, lined the highway leading to the facility.

This was Biden’s first public appearance since US television networks declared earlier Saturday that he’d taken an insurmountable lead in the nearly complete count from Tuesday’s election, giving him victory against Trump, who will now become a rare one-term president.

The celebratory event, which featured confetti, fireworks, and a soundtrack including Springsteen and Tina Turner, also gave Americans a closer look at Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris, who will make history as the country’s first female and first Black vice president.

In her speech, cheered every few seconds by the ecstatic crowd, Harris lauded the record turnout and said that after so much division, “Joe is a healer.”

“When our very democracy was on the ballot in this election, with the very soul of America at stake, and the world watching, you ushered in a new day for America,” she said.

Biden, who turns 78 later this month, will be the oldest person to become president when he takes office on January 20.

 

No Trump concession

Crowds took to the streets in major cities across the US in celebration of Trump’s defeat, while key Western allies such as Germany, which had a tempestuous relationship with the Republican, quickly congratulated Biden.

But Trump — becoming the first one-term president since George H. W. Bush — refused to concede and continued to claim he was a victim of fraud.

Biden was “rushing to falsely pose” as the winner, Trump said in a statement as he arrived to play golf at a course he owns in Virginia, his first trip outside the White House since Election Day.

There is no evidence to support Trump’s unprecedented claims of mass fraud.

Tuesday’s polling went off without any reported serious incidents or even technical glitches, despite the shadow of a still out-of-control Covid-19 pandemic and volcanic political tensions.

With vote-counting nearly complete around the huge country, Biden built up an irreversible lead.

New tallies from the state of Pennsylvania early Saturday put him over the top, ending four days of tense waiting and allowing the TV networks’ specialized data analysts to call the overall result, as they do every election.

 

Spontaneous celebrations

In Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington, and other majority-Democratic cities, people poured into the streets to celebrate, and car horns honked.

An excited crowd of several thousand gathered on Black Lives Matter Plaza next to the White House, giving a hostile reception to Trump as his motorcade passed nearby on return from the golf course.

People dance in street after listening to President-elect Joe Biden address the nation after being declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election on November 07, 2020, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

 

“It’s been so many years waiting for this day to happen,” said Jack Nugent, a 24-year-old software engineer.

There were similar scenes in New York, Trump’s birthplace.

However, in Arizona, where the race was close, a group of almost 1,000 Trump supporters gathered in Phoenix to protest what they said was a stolen election.

“There’s a lot of fraud here. It needs to be either redone totally or recounted,” Donna McCollum, 77, said.

 

Western allies send congrats

For Biden, who got more than 74 million votes, a record, the triumph was the crowning achievement of his half-century in US politics — including eight years as deputy to Obama, the first Black US president who hailed the “historic and decisive” win.

Biden has vowed to get the coronavirus pandemic under control. He has also promised to restore traditional US diplomacy after Trump’s dramatic pivot to unilateral nationalism.

The leaders of Britain, Germany, France, and other European countries were the first, along with Canada, to send congratulations.

Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga sent “warm congratulations,” while India’s Premier Narendra Modi also tweeted on Biden’s “spectacular victory.”

The head of the NATO military alliance, which reeled from Trump’s disruptive approach after decades of US leadership, also quickly welcomed Biden’s win.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Biden’s victory was a chance for the US to “compensate for its previous mistakes and return to the path of adherence to international commitments”.

Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu — a close Trump ally — congratulated Biden, calling the president-elect “a great friend of Israel”.

There was no immediate reaction from other major nations, including China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

AFP