Omicron: Biden to unveil new Covid-19 winter measures

  • In Politics
  • 2021-12-02 18:42:48Z
  • By BBC
People wait in line at a walk-in vaccination clinic in Washington DC
People wait in line at a walk-in vaccination clinic in Washington DC  

The US has confirmed a second case of the Omicron coronavirus variant as President Joe Biden was due to unveil new measures to deal with the virus.

A Minnesota resident was found to have the variant after attending a convention in New York, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The first US case was announced on Wednesday in California.

The White House is renewing a push for jabs amid the appearance of Omicron worldwide.

However, President Biden has said he believes the new variant is "not a cause for panic" and is unlikely to result in new domestic lockdowns.

  • How worrying is the new Covid variant?

  • Covid variants: Do we need new vaccines yet?

  • Biden: Omicron lockdown not needed for now

His administration's plan for the winter months comprises several steps to encourage adults to get their booster vaccines, including a public education campaign.

At-home tests will be made widely available at no cost, through private insurance companies for those who have coverage, and through health centres and rural clinics for those who do not.

The president also announced that hundreds of family vaccination clinics will be set up across the country, in an attempt to increase vaccination rates among children and teenagers.

In addition, the White House has already laid out new, stricter testing requirements for international travel: all passengers must provide a negative test result from within 24 hours of their departure.

The US and several other countries have also banned travel from eight southern African countries.

Health experts have said travel restrictions will buy them time to study the new variant. It is still not clear whether the variant is associated with more transmission or more risk of evading vaccines.

Biden's plan suggests a return to normal is still far off

Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter
Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter  

With the rise of the Omicron variant, Joe Biden is back in front of the American people later with another set of steps to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Unlike his last major action, however, the administration's plan is light on government mandates - perhaps a reflection of the political firestorm his previous orders created and the legal morass that has enveloped them.

Instead, Biden is pushing for greater access to testing and encouraging, but not requiring, all Americans to get vaccination booster shots.

He also makes specific mention of keeping schools open and children in classrooms - a reflection of the white-hot rage last year's extended closures generated among some suburban parents, who have become a key part of the Democrats' electoral voting bloc.

When Biden assumed the presidency earlier this year, he acknowledged the success of his tenure would be determined in large part by his ability to contain the pandemic and return a semblance of normalcy to American life.

After some early positive results, the rise of new variants - along with vaccine hesitancy among some in the US - dampened those hopes and exacted an economic and political toll.

Today's actions suggest Biden knows a return to normal is still a long way off.


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