Biden unveils ‘war-time undertaking’ to fight Covid-19

US president releases 198-page plan and signs 10 more executive orders aimed at curbing pandemic

President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled his "war-time" plan to curb the Covid-19 pandemic that has ravaged the US and killed more than 400,000 people there.

“For the past year, we couldn’t rely on the federal government to act with the urgency and focus and co-ordination we needed,” Mr Biden said.

“We have seen the tragic cost of that failure. More than 24 million Americans have been infected.

"To put that in context, America makes up 4 per cent of the world’s population, but 25 per cent of the world’s confirmed Covid-19 cases and nearly 20 per cent of all the Covid-19 deaths.”

He discussed his administration's 198-page plan to address Covid-19 and signed another 10 executive orders to begin implementing his strategy, adding to his pandemic-related actions on his first day in office.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases whose advice was often ignored by the Trump administration, attended the signing ceremony.

At the centre of Mr Biden’s Covid-19 plan will be vaccinating people as quickly as possible.

But he said the federally backed vaccine distribution programme has been "a dismal failure so far".

The president set an ambitious goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of his administration.

“This will be one of the greatest operational challenges our nation has ever undertaken and I’m committed to getting it done,” Mr Biden said.

“We’ll move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated for free and create more places for them to get vaccinated.”

The first order he signed uses the Defence Production Act to address shortages of vaccine supplies, such as syringes, personal protective equipment and masks.

The Trump administration used the same law last year to speed up the production of ventilators.

Another order instructs the Federal Emergency Management Agency to start establishing community vaccination centres, with the goal of having 100 of them open across the country by next month.

The agency will also establish a Covid-response liaison for each state to enhance co-operation and communication with the federal government.

That same order reimburses states that use the National Guard as part of their Covid-19 relief efforts.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention will also launch a federal pharmacy programme to increase vaccine access at local chemists.

Mr Biden said the Department of Health and Human Services would “prepare and expand the pool of medical professionals who can administer the vaccine".

He is also asking Congress for funds to employ more public health workers.

Many of Mr Biden’s executive orders are intended to curb the spread of the virus while the federal and state governments make inoculations more widely available.

“The brutal truth is it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated,” he said.

One of Mr Biden’s orders makes masks obligatory for interstate travel on planes, trains and buses.

It requires people flying into the US from another country to receive a Covid-19 test before boarding the plane and to enter quarantine on arrival.

Mr Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order requiring federal workers, contractors and visitors to wear masks on federal property.

“Masks have become a partisan issue, unfortunately, but it’s a patriotic act,” he said.

Mr Biden said every person wearing a mask through April could save as many as 50,000 lives.

The other orders are intended to expand Covid-19 testing, co-ordinate a global response, keep essential workers safe, increase access to care and treatment, and improve federal data collection and sharing.

Another order establishes a Covid-19 equity task force to ensure that communities of colour, who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic in the US, have the resources needed to fight the virus.

Yet another order establishes a study on safely reopening schools.

"Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better," Mr Biden said. "The death toll will likely top nearly 500,000 next month.

"The cases will continue to mount. We didn’t get in this mess overnight. It’s going to take months for us to turn things around.”

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