Worst of the pandemic still to come, Biden warns

Washington, Dec 22 (efe-epa).- President-elect Joe Biden said Tuesday that the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines will not prevent tens of thousands of additional deaths in the United States, which leads the world in coronavirus fatalities with more than 321,000.

“One thing I promise you about my leadership during this crisis: I’m going to tell it to you straight. I’m going to tell you the truth. And here’s the simple truth: Our darkest days in the battle against Covid are ahead of us, not behind us,” he said during a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware.

Addressing the country three days before Christmas, Biden called on Americans to follow the guidance of public health experts by staying home and limiting contact with people outside their households.

“Like we did over Thanksgiving, we all have to care enough for each other that we have to stay apart just a little bit longer. I know it’s hard,” the former vice president said.

A day after receiving the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on live television, Biden expressed “absolute confidence” in the drug, while noting that the supply of vaccine remains small in relation to the need with more than 18 million confirmed cases.

“Taking the vaccine from a vial into the arm of millions of Americans is one of the biggest operational challenges the United States has ever faced,” he said.

The president-elect hailed Congress for reaching agreement on a $900 billion pandemic relief package in conjunction with a $1.4 trillion bill to fund the government for the next nine months, though he described the measure as only a “down payment.”

After initially excluding another round of direct payments to individuals, the final accord provided checks, but the maximum amount is $600 per individual and $1,200 for a couple – half the size of the first round – and a smaller number of people will get the maximum.

“The leaders in both the House and the Senate in both parties deserve credit for making the hard compromises to get this done,” Biden said. “Like all compromises, this is far from perfect. Congress did their job this week, and I can and I must ask them to do it again next year.”

He said that the proposal he plans to submit to Congress shortly after taking office Jan. 20 will include funding to ensure enough vaccine to inoculate at least 300 million Americans over the next calendar year, along with financial support for the millions who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

“Our hearts go out to all of you who have fallen on hard times, through no fault of your own, I might add,” Biden said.

Asked about the travel status of US nationals now in the United Kingdom, where a new mutation of the virus has emerged, he said that he was seeking advice from his Covid-19 task force.

“One thing I’m waiting to get a response from my Covid team is whether or not we should require testing before they get on an aircraft to fly home, No. 1,” Biden said. “And No. 2, when they get home should they quarantine. That’s my instinct but I’m waiting to hear from my experts right now.”

Earlier Tuesday, the country’s chief epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he would not be surprised to find that the new mutation was already present in the US.

In an interview Monday night with PBS, Fauci said he saw no need for the “draconian approach” of barring passenger flights from the UK.

“I think we should seriously consider the possibility of requiring testing of people before they come from the UK here. But I don’t think that there is enough evidence right now to essentially lock down any travel from the UK,” he said. EFE ssa-llb/dr

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