Biden warns US facing ‘dark winter’ as he unveils COVID-19 plans
WASHINGTON: US President-elect Joe Biden is warning the United States is “still facing a very dark winter” as he unveils plans for addressing COVID-19 pandemic.
Even as hopes of a vaccine lifted stocks, Biden said Monday another 200,000 lives could be lost before it is widely available.
The Democrat said he would be guided by science in laying out the framework of a pandemic response, starting with members of a task force to prepare for his administration’s transition to overseeing it.
Biden also implored Americans to “wear a mask” to help fight the spread of the coronavirus — “no matter who you voted for.”
He said, “We are Americans, and our country is under threat.”
“We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives. American lives,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware. “I implore you. Wear a mask. Do it for yourself. Do it for your neighbor. A mask is not a political statement.”
The US has been registering record high infection numbers in recent days and mask wearing has become a political issue, with incumbent Donald Trump mocking Biden for wearing a mask during the campaign and many conservatives contending masks infringe upon their individual freedom.
The pandemic has killed more than 237,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work. Biden spoke two days after clinching election victory over Trump, though the Republican president has not acknowledged defeat and is pursuing legal challenges to the results while making unfounded claims of fraud.
Biden, set to take office on Jan. 20, and Vice-President elect Kamala Harris conferred by video with his 13-member task force, headed by former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler and Yale University health care equity expert Marcella Nunez-Smith.
The members of his coronavirus task force will put together a blueprint for fighting the pandemic.
Notable among the task force members is Rick Bright, a vaccine expert and former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Bright filed a whistleblower complaint alleging he was reassigned to a lesser job because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug pushed Trump as a COVID-19 treatment.
The president-elect labeled as “great news” Pfizer Inc’s announcement on Monday that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective.
But Biden said it would be “many more months before there is widespread vaccination” in the US and underscored the importance of wearing protective masks and social distancing.
Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE are the first drugmakers to release successful data from a large-scale clinical trial of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
Biden said his team will focus on making rapid COVID-19 testing widely available and building a corps of contact-tracers to track and curb the pathogen’s spread and prioritize vulnerable populations. Biden said his administration would work to get an approved vaccine “distributed as quickly as possible to as many Americans as possible, free of charge.”
The task force will liaise with local and state officials to consider how to safely reopen schools and businesses and tackle racial disparities.
Biden cleared the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency on Saturday, four days after the Nov. 3 election. He beat Trump by more than 4.3 million votes nationwide, with Trump becoming the first US president since 1992 to lose a re-election bid.