Biden says US can battle Omicron without disrupting economy

By Lucia Leal

Washington, Dec 2 (EFE).- President Joe Biden outlined Thursday his administration’s strategy for averting a resurgence of Covid-19 in the United States during the winter and containing the impact of the Omicron variant of the virus without doing damage to the economy.

Starting next Monday, he said, all air travelers arriving in the US will have to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test within the preceding 24 hours, rather than the 72-hour window under the existing rules.

The requirement will apply to everyone, regardless of nationality, vaccination status or itinerary, and while the administration has no current plans to require travelers to undergo quarantine, the White House says it is ready to consider more stringent measures if circumstances warrant.

“This testing timetable provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the Omicron variant,” Biden said in a speech at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Last week, weeks after lifting its ban on travelers from some 30 mainly European countries, Washington announced that only US citizens and permanent residents would be allowed to enter the country from South Africa – where Omicron was first identified – and seven other African nations.

“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” the president said at the NIH complex in Maryland.

Three cases of infection with the Omicron variant have been reported in the US. Two of those people recently returned from South Africa.

“This new variant is cause for concern, but not panic. We knew there’d be cases of Omicron here in the United States and it’s here. But we have the best tools, the best vaccines in the world and the best medicine and the best scientists in the world,” Biden said.

“Just like we beat back Covid-19 in the spring, a more powerful variant, Delta variant, in the summer and fall. As a result, we entered this winter from a position of strength compared to where America was last winter,” he said.

“Last Christmas, fewer than 1 percent of American adults were fully vaccinated. This Christmas, that number will be 72 percent, including more than 86 percent of seniors, the most vulnerable population,” the 79-year-old president said.

Even so, he added, “experts say the Covid-19 cases will continue to rise in the weeks ahead in this winter. So we need to be ready.”

Amid resistance to the vaccination on the part of many Americans, the White House has decided to push for expanded testing. To that end, from Jan. 1, health insurance companies will be required to reimburse people for the costs of at-home tests.

“This winter you’ll be able to test for free in the comfort of your home and have some peace of mind. This is on top of the 20,000 sites already around the country, like pharmacies, where you can go in and get tested for free,” Biden said.

And for those who want the vaccine but have found it difficult to get the shot, the president promised family vaccination clinics in community health centers and “other trusted locations.”

“Some will be mobile to reach further into hard to reach communities. If it’s booster shots for adults, vaccinations for kids, all the same place at the same time,” he said.

The president also said the administration will triple – from 20 to 60 – the number of surge response teams that will be available to states and localities experiencing a spike in infections and hospitalizations. EFE llb/dr

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