Biden focuses on testing, vaccines to fight Omicron, not restrictions

The federal government will mobilise 1,000 doctors, nurses and military medical personnel to be deployed across the country as needed in January and February.

US President Joe Biden receives a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the South Court Auditorium in the White House 27 September 2021 in Washington, DC. Picture: Anna Moneymaker/AFP

WASHINGTON – Faced with a surging Omicron variant, US authorities will distribute 500 million free COVID-19 tests, mobilise military medical personnel if needed and increase vaccination capacity, a senior White House official said Tuesday.

“We have the tools to get through this wave,” the official said, noting there are no plans to impose new restrictions.

If Americans “are vaccinated and follow the precautions that we all know well, especially masking when traveling, they should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays”.

“There is no need to lock down our schools, nor our economy,” the official said.

The Joe Biden administration’s response is based on three principles: more hospital resources, more testing and more vaccines.

The federal government will mobilise 1,000 doctors, nurses and military medical personnel to be deployed across the country as needed in January and February.

Washington is already sending additional emergency teams to the states of Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont.

The government is also preparing emergency transport and equipment, including protective gear and respirators, for hospitals that may need them.

“We’re prepared for what we think will be an increase in unvaccinated hospitalizations in the coming months,” the official said.

Biden’s administration will also take action in an area where it has been heavily criticised – COVID screening – by purchasing 500 million at-home rapid tests.

The COVID tests will be delivered free of charge to Americans who request them via a dedicated website, starting in January.

The government is also promising to open new vaccination centers.

“We should take Omicron seriously, but this is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” the official said, echoing a sentiment often stressed by Biden.

The president was elected on promises to defeat the virus and protect Americans after the mixed messages of Donald Trump.

But getting the virus under control has proved difficult in a country where vaccination and mask-wearing have become divisive political issues, and federal mandates end up in protracted legal battles.

Biden has attempted to impose vaccine mandates on private businesses and federal employees but has resorted in recent weeks to little more than publicly beseeching people to get their shots.

He has also decided not to impose further restrictions for the time being, such as by imposing regulations on domestic flights.

Shows and sporting events are increasingly getting canceled in the United States, while some cities such as Boston are implementing beefed up health protocols.

In some areas, schools have decided to temporarily switch to virtual learning after the winter vacation.

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