US President Joe Biden talks about his administration’s plan to tackle the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with the Omicron variant during his visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, USA on December 2, 2021.
Kevin Lamarck | Reuters
President Joe Biden said Thursday that his plan to tackle Covid in the winter months will not include new restrictions or expanding the administration’s current vaccination requirements.
“This does not include shutdowns or blockages, but widespread vaccinations and revaccinations, and more,” Biden told reporters during the update.
“And while my existing federal vaccination requirements are being reviewed in the courts, this plan does not expand or add to those mandates – a plan that I hope all Americans can rally around and, in my humble opinion, should be bipartisan.” – said the president.
The administration hopes to increase the number of Americans getting boosted by expanding coverage. Medicare & Medicaid Centers will contact more than 60 million Medicare members, mostly seniors, to remind them to get their extra shots.
The White House plan, unveiled earlier Thursday, comes after at least two cases of a heavily mutated omicron variant were discovered in California and Minnesota this week. Health officials in the United States and around the world are concerned that this variant, which has about 50 mutations, may prove more transmissible and elude vaccine protection to some extent.
Several European countries have re-imposed restrictions on public life to combat the wave of Covid infection. Austria has imposed complete isolation, the Netherlands is forcing businesses like restaurants to close early, and Germany bans the unvaccinated from working in most businesses, with the exception of grocery stores, pharmacies and bakeries.
The White House is asking businesses with 100 or more employees to voluntarily comply with administration requirements for their employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly by January 4. A federal appeals court suspended the policy last month, pending revision last month, citing constitutional concerns. The administration says it has a sound legal basis and expects to win the case.
Biden said Thursday that the administration’s goal is to keep schools running by opening hundreds of family vaccination clinics in community health centers and other locations across the country to make it easier for parents to immunize their children.
“We want our children to go to school; we’re going to take new steps to make it that way, ”Biden said. “But again, the best step is to get your kids vaccinated.”
The plan also includes expanding free in-home Covid testing. Americans with private insurance will be reimbursed for testing costs, and the administration will distribute 50 million free tests to health centers and rural clinics for people who are uninsured or underserved, the president said.
Biden said the administration does not believe more action is needed at the moment, but is developing contingency plans to develop new vaccines and boosters if needed to combat the omicron.
“My team is already working with representatives from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for other vaccines or boosters,” Biden said. “And I’m also instructing the FDA and CDC to use the fastest process available – no cutting corners, for safety reasons – to validate and approve such vaccines, if necessary.”
The United States will also require foreign travelers, regardless of vaccination, to be tested 24 hours before departure, starting next week. The administration is also extending masks for domestic flights and public transport until March 18.
“We are in a better position than a year ago to fight Covid-19,” Biden said.