With cases surging in US, Biden to launch 6-point plan against Covid-19

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – With Covid-19 cases surging among the unvaccinated in the US, President Joe Biden will outline new approaches to control the pandemic in a speech on Thursday (Sept 9), including a requirement that all federal employees get vaccinated.

Many in the United States remain sceptical of the shots two months after Mr Biden declared that Americans are “closer than ever to declaring our independence” from the coronavirus.

In July, he said federal workers had to get vaccinated or face regular Covid-19 testing and other restrictions like mandatory face masks at workplaces.

In a 5pm ET (5am Friday Singapore time) speech, Mr Biden will take it a step further, announcing an executive order to require all federal employees and government contractors to get vaccinated, a source familiar with the situation said.

Just over 53 per cent of Americans are fully vaccinated, including almost two-thirds of the adult population, according to data from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The coronavirus has killed more than 654,000 Americans.

Mr Biden will lay out a six-part plan to get more people vaccinated, enhance protection for those who already have had shots and keep schools open, White House spokesman Jen Psaki said.

The speech will cover increasing testing and mask-wearing, protecting economic recovery from the pandemic-induced recession, and improving healthcare for people infected with Covid-19, she said in television interviews.

“He’s going to speak directly to vaccinated people and their frustration, and he wants them to hear how we’re going to build on what we’ve done to date to get the virus under control and to return to some version of normal in this country,” she said.

Increasing infections have raised concerns as children head back to school, while also rattling investors and upending companies’ return-to-office plans.

With 160,000 new infections a day, the country is “still in pandemic mode… That’s not even modestly good control”, Mr Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, told Axios, adding: “You’ve got to get well below 10,000 before you start feeling comfortable.”

The White House plans to offer booster shots to provide additional protection to those who are fully vaccinated, but the World Health Organisation and other advocates have argued that with limited global vaccine supplies, rich countries should pause booster shots until more people worldwide are inoculated.

Ms Psaki told MSNBC that the White House wants Covid-19 tests to be easier to obtain.

Abbott Laboratories and other test manufacturers are trying to boost production as cases soar, after having scaled back in recent months.

CVS Health Corp recently imposed limits on the number of at-home tests customers can buy.

“It’s hard to find a test… They should be more available and accessible to people across the country,” Ms Psaki said.

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The White House says the federal government cannot mandate vaccines nationwide, but it has encouraged school districts, businesses and other entities to require shots.

“We know it works,” Ms Psaki said of inoculations, adding that the administration would build on the push for mandates, offering no further details.

Many school districts have mandated masks despite heated controversy in some areas, and some have required teachers to be vaccinated or face regular testing.

Later on Thursday, the Los Angeles County School Board, the nation’s second largest school district behind New York City, is scheduled to weigh a Covid-19 vaccine requirement for youth 12 and older.

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