Biden seeks to expand Covid testing as demand surges

US president says he will follow recommendations from advisers if shorter isolation period is recommended

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US President Joe Biden on Monday said more work must be done to provide greater accessibility to Covid-19 tests as the country experiences a new surge in cases.

Joining his Covid-19 response team's call with the National Governors Association, Mr Biden said his administration understands the steps it will take to save lives and keep businesses open while acknowledging the difficulty Americans are experiencing with Covid-19 tests.

“Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do,” he said.

“It's clearly not enough. If we'd known, we would've gone harder and quicker if we could have.”

Last week, Mr Biden pledged to deliver 500 million at-home Covid-19 tests free of charge beginning in January.

The surge in demand for Covid-19 tests comes amid the arrival of Omicron, with US cases reaching their highest levels since the summer, data from The New York Times show.

The north-eastern US has been hit particularly hard by the latest wave, with reported cases in New York up 80 per cent over the past two weeks.

The US is averaging about 215,000 daily cases over a 14-day period, the Times said, and hospital admissions and deaths remain slightly up over that same time frame.

Mr Biden said that hospitals will be burdened by Covid patients who have not been vaccinated.

“We still have tens of millions of unvaccinated people and we're seeing hospitalisations rise. It means our hospitals in some places are going to get overrun,” he said.

Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci advised Americans against large gatherings for New Year's to reduce the spike in cases.

“When we are talking about a New Year's Eve party … I would recommend strongly staying away from that this year. There will be other years to do that, but not this year,” he told CNN.

Dr Fauci also said a shorter isolation period is “being considered” for those who contract Covid-19. The US Centres for Disease Control last week updated its guidance for asymptomatic healthcare workers who can return to their jobs after seven days if they return a negative test at that point.

Mr Biden told reporters that if he receives a recommendation to shorten the isolation period, he will follow it.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: December 27, 2021, 7:16 PM