President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a number of measures he hopes will help combat COVID-19 as his administration struggles to control the disease, but vowed not to try to force areas to lock down, after two cases of the virus variant Omicron were detected in the United States.
Biden and his administration are extending the mask mandate on airplanes, trains, and public transportation into March 2022, helping launch hundreds of new vaccine clinics, and forcing all inbound international travelers to test negative for COVID-19 within one day of departure regardless of vaccination status or nationality.
The president and his advisers are also ramping up marketing to try to convince all eligible Americans to get a booster shot, as more and more studies show COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness wanes over time.
It’s all part of what the president described as a “battle plan to combat COVID-19 this winter.” The plan, Biden said, “pulls no punches in the fight against COVID-19,” with the hope that the effort “unites us.”
The plan “doesn’t include shutdowns or lockdowns,” Biden said. He also said it doesn’t include additional mandates. The three primary mandates he and his administration have put forth are currently blocked by courts because judges said they’re likely illegal.
Biden was speaking at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, following a meeting with top medical advisers, including Drs. Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins.
Cases of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus were identified in two different states this week, and scientists and officials believe the strain will appear elsewhere.
“We do anticipate there will be more cases,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at the White House.
Omicron was first identified by scientists in South Africa last month, though it dates back to at least October, according to genomic sequencing done by Nigerian experts.
South African scientists said in a pre-print paper published Thursday that an analysis of surveillance data indicated the variant better evades immunity from prior infection, widely known as natural immunity, when compared to earlier variants.
It’s not yet known whether the variant can also better evade the protection bestowed by vaccines, the scientists said.
In the meantime, health officials in America are urging people who have not gotten a jab to get one and those who have to get a booster. They’re also cautioning people against overreacting, emphasizing that little is known about Omicron.
Biden said the United States is entering the winter in “a position of strength,” since nearly three out of four adults are fully vaccinated, compared to just 1 percent this time last year.
Many children can also now get a shot, he added. Regulators have cleared Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids as young as 5, and one prong of the new plan is to ensure the Food and Drug Administration has all the resources it needs to authorize the shot if clinical trial data suggest it’s safe and efficacious for younger children.
Biden’s plan drew praise from Democrats.
“President Biden is unveiling a plan today to keep Americans safe and healthy without last year’s awful winter that saw widespread school and business closures and 3,000-4,000 deaths per day at its peak,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) wrote on Twitter.
Republicans, though, contrasted the stricter rules for international arrivals with the administration’s treatment of the southern border, where more illegal immigrants have crossed this year than any other year in recorded history.
“While Biden implements strict travel mandates on his own citizens, he allows hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to flow into the country at unprecedented rates,” Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-Texas) said. “This has never been about COVID—it is all about control.”
From The Epoch Times