Washington, Jan 21 (efe-epa).- New President Joe Biden on Thursday warned that the number of Covid-19 deaths in the US will probably exceed 500,000 in February and he acknowledged that it will take months to “turn things around” in terms of improving the much-faulted response to the pandemic by the administration of his predecessor, Donald Trump.
“Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better,” Biden said at a White House signing ceremony for at least 10 new executive orders and decrees to accelerate the US response to the pandemic.
“The death toll will likely top 500,000 next month. And the cases will continue to mount. We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it’s going to take months for us to turn things around,” the president said.
“But let me be equally clear,” he added. “We will get through this. We will defeat this pandemic. And to a nation waiting for action, let me be the clearest on this point: help is on the way.”
The US exceeded 400,000 Covid dead last Tuesday and has added another 8,000 fatalities to that dire total in the last 48 hours, according to the independent tally being kept by The Johns Hopkins University.
Biden’s forecast agrees with that of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent global health research center at the University of Washington, which calculates that if the current trajectory continues, the US will surpass the half million mark in Covid deaths on Feb. 19 and will go into March with a death toll of more than 521,000 from the disease.
Biden said that during 2020, the country could not rely on the federal government to act with urgency to deal with the pandemic or to provide the focus and coordination that was needed, adding that Americans have seen the tragic cost of that failure.
The new president announced a new strategy to deal with the pandemic as if it were a “wartime effort,” a strategy including measures to accelerate the rate of vaccination, a campaign the implementation of which, so far, he called a deplorable failure.
Among other measures, Biden signed an executive order confirming that the US will demand that people entering the country from abroad test negative for Covid-19 before flying here and quarantine themselves after they arrive. The first of these requirements was announced last week by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).
Another measure orders the use of facemasks at airports and on most airplanes, trains, ships and buses, something that Trump refused to do.
Biden also ordered that the Defense Production Act be activated, a law passed in 1950 in response to the Korean War to mobilize the country’s industrial sector and accelerate the manufacture of facemasks, ventilators and other equipment to fight the pandemic.
Less than an hour after the president spoke, the top US epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, confessed at a press conference to being relieved at Trump’s departure, saying that it was “liberating” to be able to speak clearly about what science dictates regarding Covid-19 without fear of “repercussions.”
Fauci, who now is Biden’s top medical advisor, admitted feeling uncomfortable with Trump’s attitude on the pandemic, given that the ex-president repeatedly minimized the risk posed by the coronavirus and on many occasions contradicted experts’ conclusions, although he said he had never relished being in a position where he had to contradict the president.
Trump had threatened to fire Fauci but later was informed that he did not have the power to do so because the expert’s position was not a political post but rather a civil service post: that of director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Biden is the seventh US president to be advised by Fauci, who has headed the NIAID since 1984.
At his first press conference during Biden’s term, Fauci thanked the new president for giving fully “transparent and honest” instructions.
He also said that, at present, there has been no confirmation that the South African variant of Covid-19 has arrived in the US, although the highly transmissible British strain is present in some 20 states.
Everything points to the apparent fact that the vaccines being administered in the US and other nations protect against these new mutated strains of the virus but if the vaccines need to be modified that process will not be particularly difficult, Fauci said.