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Biden issues plan to fight pandemic

By AI HEPING in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-01-22 11:20
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US President Joe Biden speaks about his administration's plans to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic during a COVID-19 response event at the White House in Washington, US, Jan 21, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

US President Joe Biden on Thursday presented his COVID-19 war plan for getting the coronavirus sweeping the country under control and saving American lives.

"History is going to measure whether we are up to the task," Biden declared in remarks to reporters in the State Dining Room of the White House.

The White House released a 200-page document that outlines the plan — "National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness".

On Thursday, Biden signed 10 executive orders and presidential directives covering parts of the plan, including increasing the production and purchasing of vaccines through the Defense Production Act and mandating face masks on federal property.

Invoking the act would seek to ensure availability of glass vials, syringes gloves, N95 masks and other supplies needed for virus testing and vaccine administration.

In addition to Biden asking Americans to wear masks for 100 days, he issued a separate order to federal agencies mandating masks on federal property. The order also calls for international travelers to quarantine after arriving in the US but doesn't specify how that would be enforced.

Other orders direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reimburse states for some costs related to their COVID-19 response and to provide funds to help reopen schools.

He also is ordering FEMA to begin setting up vaccination centers at more locations, including stadiums and convention centers, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to begin a program to make vaccines available through local pharmacies starting next month.

The plan directs federal health agencies to consider raising pay for those who administer vaccines and calls for establishing a public health workforce that will help with testing and vaccinations in their communities.

Joining Biden to discuss the plan was Vice-President Kamala Harris, Dr Anthony Fauci, his chief COVID-19 medical adviser, and Jeff Zients, Biden's new White House COVID-19 response coordinator.

At one point, Biden criticized the Trump administration for not being aggressive on dealing with the pandemic, saying, "For the past year we couldn't rely on the federal government to act with the urgency and focus and coordination that we needed, and we have seen the tragic cost of that failure."

CNN reported Thursday that one Biden administration source who wasn't named claimed no plan was left for the new administration and that "we are going to have to build everything from scratch".

On Wednesday, Zients said, "What we're inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined. The cooperation or lack of cooperation from the Trump administration has been an impediment. We don't have the visibility that we would hope to have into supply and allocations."

When a reporter asked Biden if his promise to inject 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days should be for a higher number, the president said, "When I announced, you all said it's not possible. Come on, give me a break, man.

"The brutal truth is it's going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated," Biden said.

Fauci gave an update on the coronavirus pandemic. He said that based on recent seven-day averages, coronavirus infections may be near a plateau in the US.

"Well, obviously we're still in a very serious situation," he said. "To have over 400,000 deaths is something that is, unfortunately, historic in the very bad sense.

"However, when you look more recently on the seven-day average of cases," he added, "right now, it looks like it might actually be plateauing."

Fauci said that the new administration is also seeking and increase in production of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines as well as the Johnson & Johnson candidate, which he said could be presented soon to US regulators for approval.

He added that if 70-80 percent of Americans are vaccinated by late September, some degree of normalcy can return to the country in the following months.

Fauci also said the coronavirus vaccine can be modified to take account of new mutations of the virus, and that while a new variant in South Africa is concerning, it doesn't appear to be in the US.

"Bottom line: We're paying very close attention to it for our alternative plans if we have to ever modify the vaccine," he said. "But right now, from the reports we have … it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them."

Fauci said he was sometimes made uncomfortable by Trump's statements about the coronavirus because they "were not based in scientific fact".

"You didn't feel that you could actually say something and there wouldn't be repercussions about it," Fauci said, adding that working for the Biden administration "is somewhat of a liberating feeling".

He said the new administration would "be completely open and honest" in dealing with the pandemic and said everything now would be "based on science and evidence".

He also said that in the Biden administration, the rule would be "if you don't know the answer, don't guess".

"The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence — what the science is, and know, 'That's it. Let the science speak,' it is somewhat of a liberating feeling," he added.

A reporter then pointed out that, while serving in the same role under Trump, Fauci "basically vanished for a few months there for a while".

"Do you feel like you're back now?" the reporter asked.

"I think so," Fauci replied with a smile.

The administration's plan is tied to a $1.9 trillion plan that Biden unveiled last week to combat the pandemic.

The plan establishes a federal COVID-19 response team to coordinate efforts across agencies and restores a White House team on global health risks that was established during the Obama administration.

It calls for regular public briefings on COVID-19 to be led by scientific experts.

Biden also will issue an order to develop a national strategy to reopen schools, hoping to meet his goal of having most K-8 schools open within his first 100 days in office.

The plan orders the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services to develop guidelines to help schools reopen and to share best practices from schools across the nation.

The federal government will work with schools to implement screening programs to help them reopen.

The plan calls on Congress to provide at least $130 billion in additional aid to schools and $35 billion for colleges and universities.

States also would be helped. The plan increases emergency funding to them and orders FEMA to reimburse them for certain costs tied to the pandemic, including supplies of protective equipment and for National Guard personnel supporting the pandemic response.

The federal government will track data on virus cases, testing, vaccinations and hospital admissions and will make it available to the public. The CDC will start a public dashboard tracking cases at the county level.

The plan accelerates vaccinations by ending a policy to hold back large amounts of vaccines for a second dose while also giving states clearer projections on vaccine availability to help them plan their rollouts.

The federal government also will identify communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic and make sure vaccine doses reach the residents there.

The administration will launch a national campaign to educate Americans about vaccines and encourage them to get shots.

A new national testing strategy will expand testing supplies and increase laboratory capacity.

The plan asks Congress to provide $25 billion to stabilize child care centers that are at risk of closing and $15 billion in childcare aid for struggling families.

Biden will issue an order calling on federal agencies to issue updated guidance on COVID-19 precautions for workers and to consider new federal emergency standards.

The plan would establish an equity task force to address disparities in rates of infection, illness and death across lines of race, ethnicity and geography.

It directs federal agencies to expand data collection on high-risk populations and use that information to track and evaluate the pandemic response among those populations.

The plan calls for establishing a public health workforce that will help with testing and vaccinations.

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