US President Joe Biden’s administration has made a desperate plea to Americans as he rolls out a new strategy to tackle the coronavirus which has so far killed more than 400,000 people across the nation.
Biden signed off a raft of executive orders aimed at jump starting his national COVID-19 strategy to increase vaccinations and testing, lay the groundwork for reopening schools and businesses, and immediately increase the use of masks — including a requirement that Americans mask up for travel.
One directive calls for addressing health care inequities in minority communities hard hit by the virus.
“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it will take months to turn this around,” Biden said.
“Despite the best intentions we’re going to face setbacks... [but] let me be clear on this point: Help is on the way.”
Americans ‘must do their part’
The new president has vowed to take far more aggressive measures to contain the virus than his predecessor, starting with stringent adherence to public health guidance.
He faces steep obstacles, with the virus actively spreading in most states, slow progress on the vaccine rollout and political uncertainty over whether congressional Republicans will help him pass a $1.9 trillion economic relief and COVID response package.
“We need to ask average Americans to do their part,” said Jeff Zients, the White House official directing the national response.
“Defeating the virus requires a coordinated nationwide effort.”
Wearing masks in the US has been a divisive issue, with a lack of cooperation from the US public previously criticised by top medical adviser on Covid-19, Dr Anthony Fauci,
The mask order for travel being implemented by Biden will apply to airports and planes, ships, intercity buses, trains and public transportation.
Travellers from abroad must provide a negative Covid-19 test before departing for the US and quarantine upon arrival.
It marks a sharp break with the culture of President Donald Trump’s administration, under which masks were optional, and Trump made a point of going mask-less and hosting big gatherings of like-minded supporters.
Biden is also seeking to expand testing and vaccine availability, with the goal of 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office. Zients has called Biden’s goal “ambitious and achievable.”
US’s WHO support ‘critical’
Fauci on Thursday announced the US would resume funding the World Health Organisation after Donald Trump sensationally pulled the plug on its financial contributions to the agency last year after alleging it had failed in its response to the virus.
“I am honoured to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organisation,” Fauci told a virtual meeting of the WHO.
It was the first public statement by a member of Biden’s administration to an international audience — and a sign of the priority that the new president has made of fighting Covid-19 both at home and with world partners.
Fauci said the US, which previously was the biggest donor to the agency, would resume “regular engagement”, to the delight of WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health,” Mr Ghebreyesus said.
“The role of the United States... is very, very crucial.”
Fauci also said Biden will issue a directive Thursday that shows the United States’ intent to join the COVAX Facility, a project to deploy Covid-19 vaccines to people in need around the world — whether in rich or poor countries.
While vowing US support, Fauci also pointed to some key challenges facing WHO.
He said the US was committed to “transparency, including those events surrounding the early days of the pandemic.”
One of the Trump administration’s biggest criticisms was that the WHO reacted too slowly to the outbreak in Wuhan, China, and was too accepting of and too effusive about the Chinese government’s response to it.
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