Biden to urge vigilance among Americans and offer hope on anniversary of US' Covid-19 lockdown

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – US President Joe Biden is set to mark the one-year anniversary of the US coronavirus pandemic lockdown on Thursday (March 11) with a prime-time speech commemorating losses from Covid-19 while expressing hope for the future as vaccinations increase.

The Democratic President, who campaigned on a promise to curb the pandemic more effectively than his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, has told Americans since his January inauguration that more deaths and pain were coming from Covid-19.

But with the vaccinated population slowly increasing, Mr Biden is conveying fresh hope even as he urges people to continue to be cautious to prevent further flare-ups.

Roughly 530,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the United States, and just about 10 per cent of Americans have been fully vaccinated. Mr Biden said on Wednesday he would use his 8pm EST (9am Friday Singapore time) address to discuss “what we’ve been through as a nation this past year”.

“But more importantly, I’m going to talk about what comes next. I’m going to launch the next phase of the Covid-19 response and explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people,” he said.

Mr Biden secured an early legislative victory this week as the Democratic-led Congress passed his US$1.9 trillion (S$2.5 trillion) pandemic-related stimulus Bill, which his administration plans to highlight in coming weeks before pushing more of his campaign-trail “Build Back Better” plan.

The President is expected to warn Americans who, like people worldwide, are weary of pandemic restrictions, not to revert to normal behaviour prematurely. He has urged continued mask wearing, social distancing and good hygiene, and he has discouraged cities and states from loosening their guidelines on large gatherings even as more localities relax restrictions.

“We cannot let our guard down now or assume that victory is inevitable. Together, we’re going to get through this pandemic and usher in a healthier and more hopeful future,” Mr Biden said at an event with the chief executives of Johnson & Johnson and Merck on Wednesday.

Top White House Covid-19 advisers echoed his hopeful tone.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr Anthony Fauci, Mr Biden’s chief medical adviser, told NBC News’ Today programme on Thursday. “By the time we get into the mid- to late summer, early fall, we’re going to start seeing a big, big difference.”

White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt said on MSNBC that he was increasingly optimistic that the country could protect its vulnerable population: “We need to do more and step on the gas the next few weeks and months to get that done, and you’re going to hear that from the president tonight.”

As at Wednesday morning, nearly 128 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from the three authorised US providers had been distributed and nearly 96 million shots administered, government data showed.

Mr Trump downplayed the crisis in its early stages and eschewed mask wearing, while repeatedly predicting the virus would soon disappear even as his administration pushed to speed up vaccine development.

Mr Trump and former first lady Melania Trump did not appear in a new public service announcement released on Thursday encouraging Covid-19 vaccinations and featuring all the other living former US presidents and their spouses.

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