Biden unveils ambitious Covid strategy on first day of office

WION Web Team
Washington, DC, United States of America Published: Jan 21, 2021, 05:55 PM(IST)

US President Joe Biden during his inaugural speech soon after taking oath Photograph:( Reuters )

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President Biden, during his inaugural speech on Wednesday, warned the pandemic was entering its "deadliest period." His presidency will initially be shaped by his response to Covid-19 and the associated economic emergency.

The newly formed administration in the United States, led by Joe Biden, unveiled a detailed Covid-19 roadmap Thursday to boost vaccinations and testing while centering scientific expertise.

President Biden, during his inaugural speech on Wednesday, warned the pandemic was entering its "deadliest period." His 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.

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.

Biden's plan has organised 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.

A few 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 per cent. 

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 Defence 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 criticised 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.

(with inputs from agencies)

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