Biden to double pledge for at-home Covid-19 tests

US president to order an additional 500 million rapid tests in response to surge in cases

US President Joe Biden said his administration plans to order an additional 500 million at-home Covid-19 tests for Americans. Reuters

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President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that he intends to order an additional 500 million at-home rapid Covid-19 tests as current demand in the US outstrips supply, doubling the pledge he made in December.

The announcement comes as the US faces a shortage of tests and long queues at testing centres across the country, following a spike in cases of the Omicron variant. Retailers, schools, and local governments are having trouble keeping at-home kits in stock.

The White House is expected to roll out a website next week where Americans can order the tests, he said. It is unclear how long it will take them to receive the tests and make them available.

The US has so far secured 50 million of the 500 million tests initially pledged, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O'Connell said, at a US Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.

Thursday's announcement, part of a new multi-step effort to curb the virus, comes amid record Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions in the US.

“No matter where you live, no matter your political party, we've got to fight this together,” Mr Biden said.

In addition to free tests, the Biden administration will announce steps next week to expand the accessibility of “high quality” masks.

“I know we all wish that we could finally be done with wearing masks, I get it,” Mr Biden said. “But they're a really important tool to stop the spread, especially the highly transmissible Omicron variant.”

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is considering whether to update its mask guidance to recommend that people wear the more protective N95 or KN95 masks, the Washington Post reported.

On Wednesday, CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said the health agency will update its guidance to better inform Americans on masks, adding that wearing any kind of mask is better than none at all.

In an additional step highlighting the federal response to the recent surge in hospital admittances, 1,000 military medical personnel will be sent to assist hospitals across the country. The new personnel will be follow other federal medical personnel who have already been sent to states to help with acute shortages.

Mr Biden earlier this month promised his administration would provide 5 million free rapid tests per month to schools.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: January 13th 2022, 5:47 PM