The US President Joe Biden on Thursday said imposing new lockdowns or expanding the administration’s current vaccination requirements is not part of his plan for fighting Covid during the winter months.
Biden shared with media, “It doesn’t include shutdowns or lockdowns, but widespread vaccinations and boosters and testing a lot more”.
He added, “And while my existing federal vaccination requirements are being reviewed by the courts, this plan does not expand or add to those mandates — a plan that all Americans hopefully can rally around, and it should get bipartisan support, in my humble opinion”.
The administration is planning on increasing the number of Americans who have received booster shots by expanding outreach. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will be reaching out to over 60 million people who are on Medicare, mostly seniors, in order to give them reminders to get an additional shot.
Earlier on Thursday, the White House plan was revealed following the detection of at least two cases of the highly mutated omicron variant in California and Minnesota this week. Health officials across the world are worried that the variant, which has some 50 mutations, could prove more transmissible and evade protection from vaccines to some degree.
Several European nations have reimposed restrictions on public life as a response to a new wave of Covid. Austria has introduced a full lockdown, the Netherlands has ordered businesses such as restaurants to close early, while Germany is banning the unvaccinated majority of the businesses with the exception of grocery stores, pharmacies, and bakeries.
The White House is directing businesses with 100 or more employees to voluntarily adhere to the administration’s requirements and get their staff vaccinated or tested weekly by Jan. 4. A federal appellate court put the policy on hold pending review last month, citing constitutional concerns. The administration says it’s on the firm legal ground and expects to win the case.
On Thursday Biden said the administration’s objective is to keep schools open by launching hundreds of family vaccination clinics at community health centers and other locations across the country to facilitate the parents in getting their children immunized.
Biden said, “We want our children in school; we are going to take new steps to make sure it stays that way”. He added, “But, again, the best step is to vaccinate your children.”
The plan further includes an expansion of free at-home Covid testing. As per Biden, Americans with private insurance will be reimbursed for the tests, and the administration will distribute 50 million free tests to health centers and rural clinics for people who are uninsured or underserved.
Biden said the administration believes additional measures are not needed as of now but is developing contingency plans to develop new vaccines and boosters in case they are needed to fight omicron.
The President remarked, “My team is already working with officials at Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for other vaccines or boosters,” Biden said. “And I’ll also direct the FDA and the CDC to use the fastest process available — without cutting corners, for safety — to get such vaccines reviewed and approved if needed.”
From next week onwards, the US will also require inbound international travelers regardless of vaccination status to get tested 24 hours ahead of their departure. The administration is also extending the mask mandate for domestic flights and public transit until March 18.
Biden said, “We are in a better position than we were a year ago to fight Covid-19”.