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World

Biden rolls out "full-scale, wartime" Covid-19 plan

US President vowed that his administration’s national Covid-19 strategy would be based on science, not politics

Photo: NYTIMES

/NOVOSTIVL/ Coronavirus deaths in the United States will likely top 500,000 next month, said President Joe Biden on Thursday (Jan 21) in a dose of reality to the nation, as he signed 10 new executive orders and unveiled his administration’s comprehensive national strategy to defeat the raging pandemic.

“Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better,” he said. “We didn’t get into this mess overnight. It’s going to take months for us to turn things around.

He added: “But we will get through this. We will defeat this pandemic. To a nation waiting for action, let me be clearest on this point: Help is on its way.”

Mr Biden’s plan includes mounting an aggressive vaccination campaign, requiring masks on interstate travel and international travellers to quarantine, equipping schools to reopen safely, and boosting testing.

He also announced a “full-scale, wartime effort” to address the shortages of personal protective equipment and other items and materials needed for testing and vaccinations, by invoking the Defence Production Act.

The law allows the government to mobilise companies to prioritise producing the necessary equipment.

“400,000 Americans have died. That’s more than have died in all of World War Two. 400,000. This is a wartime undertaking,” he said.

Vaccinations formed a core part of the Biden national strategy, with the goal of administering 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office.

“We will move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated for free and create more places for them to get vaccinated,” said Mr Biden, who called the vaccine rollout “a dismal failure thus far” in a condemnation of his predecessor Donald Trump’s Covid-19 policies.

His administration will also act to mobilise more medical teams to get shots in people’s arms and to increase vaccine supply, he added.

But masks are necessary in the interim to slow the spread of the virus and could save 50,000 lives between now and April if worn, said Mr Biden.

He signed an order mandating masks in airports and on trains, planes and buses. People flying into the US from other countries will also have to show a recent negative Covid-19 test before departure and quarantine upon arrival, he said.

Mr Biden vowed that his administration’s national strategy would be based on “science not politics”, adding that it was so detailed that it ran 198 pages.

The President also promised that public health experts would work free from political interference and make decisions based on science and health alone, in an oblique critique of Mr Trump’s approach.

On federal support for states, Mr Biden signed an order to begin reimbursing states for the use of their National Guard troops to help in Covid-19 relief efforts and for supplies.

He also directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) to establish a Covid response point person for each state at the federal level, to boost cooperation between the federal government and states.

Mr Biden also directed the Education Department and the Health and Human Services Department to immediately provide schools with clear guidance and resources to safely reopen schools and childcare centres.

Chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci said later at a press briefing that if the administration succeeded in getting 70 to 85 per cent of the country vaccinated by the end of summer, Americans could be “approaching a degree of normality” by fall.

The concern however lies in getting people sceptical about vaccines on board, he said, adding that a lot of outreach had to be done.

The President has asked Congress to fund a US$1.9 trillion (S$2.5 trillion) Covid-19 relief package and economic rescue plan, setting up intense negotiations with lawmakers in the Capitol in the coming days and weeks.

“I know these bold, practical steps will not come cheap. But failing to do so will cost us much more dearly,” said Mr Biden.

But the Senate, where Democrats have the slimmest of majorities, may be weighed down by Mr Trump’s impending impeachment trial.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is proposing that the impeachment trial start in February, to give Mr Trump a fortnight to prepare his defence, CNN and Politico reported.

USA
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