President Joe Biden launched initiatives on Thursday to rein in the raging COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, tackling his top priority on his first full day in the White House as he seeks to change course from former President Donald Trump’s governing style.
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The plan, named the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, hopes to “rebuild the trust of the American people” and “the National Strategy will signal clear public leadership and a commitment to a robust whole-of-government response that puts science first”, the White House said in a statement shared with Al Jazeera.
The White House statement lists the goals of Biden’s plan:
- Restore trust with the American people.
- Mount a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign.
- Mitigate spread through expanding mask-wearing, testing, treatments, data, the healthcare workforce, and clear public health standards.
- Immediately expand emergency relief and exercise the Defense Production Act.
- Safely reopen schools, businesses and travel while protecting workers.
- Protect those most at risk and advance equity, including across racial, ethnic and rural/urban lines.
- Restore US leadership globally and build better preparedness for future threats.
The COVID-19 pandemic has killed at least 406,196 people in the US, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. There have been over 24,500,000 confirmed cases since the pandemic began.
Trump faced criticism for what some call a “botched” response to the pandemic and vaccine roll-out. The US aimed to administer 20 million vaccines before 2021, but only gave 2.8 million.
“We can and will beat COVID-19. America deserves a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is driven by science, data, and public health – not politics”, the White House said in the statement.
Trump frequently sought to play down the severity of the pandemic, but Biden has put the disease at the top of a daunting list of challenges, including rebuilding a ravaged economy and addressing racial injustice.
Biden will sign a series of executive orders on Thursday related to the pandemic, including requiring mask-wearing in airports and on certain types of public transportation, including many trains, planes and intercity buses, officials said.
Among the 10 new orders, Biden will establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travellers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities.
Biden also will address inequities in hard-hit minority communities as he signs 10 pandemic-related executive orders on Thursday.
The new administration aims to deliver 100 million vaccines in its first 100 days, in part by opening access to the jab to new groups, including grocery store workers and teachers.
Some independent experts say the administration should be setting a higher bar for itself than 100 million shots.
Dr Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle told the Associated Press that during flu season, the US is able to vaccinate about three million people a day.
“Given the number of people dying from COVID, we could and should do more – like what we’re able to do on seasonal flu,” Murray said.
Biden will also issue a directive on Thursday including the intent to join the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX), which aims to deliver vaccines to poor countries, Biden’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, told the World Health Organization on Thursday.
One of Biden’s first acts as president was to halt the previous administration’s plans to withdraw from the organisation.
Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 package last week that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households to alleviate the financial pain from coronavirus.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the $1.9 trillion includes “the components that were necessary to give people the relief they needed”, but acknowledged the package would likely change as it sought Congressional approval.
On Thursday, Biden plans to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reimburse states and tribes fully for the costs associated with National Guard-related efforts to combat the virus, officials said.
The measure restores “full reimbursement” from the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund for costs related to reopening schools. FEMA funds are typically dispersed after hurricanes, floods or other natural disasters.
Officials said the administration would also invoke the Defense Production Act of 1950 for speedy vaccine distribution.
Some of Biden’s early initiatives could get bogged down in Congress, where the US Senate is considering how to proceed with the impeachment trial of Trump.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives impeached Trump last week for inciting an insurrection in the deadly January 6 rampage at the US Capitol.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has yet to send the article of impeachment to the Senate. According to Senate rules, the Republican former president’s trial would start the day after the charge is sent over.
Senate leaders are working to agree on a dual-track trajectory for a lengthy impeachment trial and appointments and legislation.
Biden has urged lawmakers not to let Trump’s trial interfere with his legislative priorities and confirming Biden’s US Cabinet. On Thursday, Psaki reiterated that Biden would leave the mechanics of how to proceed up to the Senate.