Joe Biden marks 'independence' from Covid, but pandemic woes persist

US president and wife Jill Biden will welcome 1,000 military personnel with their families and essential workers at the White House

US President Joe Biden prepared to throw a huge Independence Day party on Sunday to hail America's defeat of Covid-19, amid concern that pockets of America with low vaccination rates remain in the grip of the pandemic.

Mr Biden and his wife Jill will welcome 1,000 military personnel with their families and essential workers for the largest in-person event at the White House since he took office.

A fireworks display that traditionally draws thousands to the National Mall, echoed by similar events across the country, will allow the president to mark "independence from this virus".

During last year's holiday, with the pandemic near its summer peak and towns across America reeling from protests against racism and police brutality, Washington had a fraction of the visitors it usually welcomes.

But after leading the world in Covid deaths, with more than 600,000, the US has emerged as a model for getting the coronavirus under control.

With people needing hospital treatment and deaths from Covid-19 down 90 per cent since January, and the country largely reopened, the message from the South Lawn will be unmistakable.

"We do have a lot to celebrate. We are much further along than I think anyone anticipated in this fight against the pandemic," Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response co-ordinator, told ABC.

Jubilation, however, will be tempered by the White House falling just short of its much-promoted vaccination goal of getting seven in 10 adults their first shot by Independence Day.

Opponents of the White House event have voiced concern that images of nationwide partying could send the wrong message, with only 46 per cent of Americans fully inoculated, and areas with low vaccine acceptance suffering from the highly contagious Delta variant.

Public health officials have highlighted large areas of rural America where hospitals are starting to fill up again, especially in Utah, Missouri, Arkansas and Wyoming.

Dr Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious disease expert, told NBC that unvaccinated people now account for 99.2 per cent of Covid-19 deaths.

The celebration will be another chance for Mr Biden to talk up the country's economic outlook as he balances his legislative priorities going into the summer.

Negotiations continue on a bipartisan infrastructure deal and tense debate within his Democratic Party looms on a much broader spending package that has no support from Republicans.

Mr Biden visited a cherry farm in Michigan on Saturday to promote a positive June employment report as a sign of America's economic resurgence.

The administration has also sent Cabinet secretaries and other officials to sports events, barbecues and festivals nationwide as part of its "America's Back Together" celebration.

The White House, at least outwardly, continues to brim with confidence.

Six in 10 respondents in a new poll by The Washington Post and ABC News out on Sunday gave Mr Biden positive ratings for his handling of the pandemic.

Images of a crowded South Lawn will be reflected in scenes of celebration across the country, with New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and other cities putting on their own shows.

On the west coast, San Diego was preparing to stage one of the largest July 4 parties in the country, with fireworks from four barges around the bay.

California Senator Alex Padilla called Independence Day "a reminder of the American dream".

"The best way to celebrate Independence Day is by taking a moment to acknowledge all the hard work that it took to get here," Mr Padilla said.

Updated: July 5th 2021, 5:26 AM
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