Biden launches '100 days mask challenge'

File Image of President-elect Joe Biden

US President Joe Biden has unveiled his “wartime” national strategy to boost the fight against the raging COVID-19 pandemic, including making the coronavirus test followed by quarantine mandatory for all travellers coming from overseas.

Announcing the measures, Biden said it would take months to defeat the pandemic but America would “get through this” if people stood together.

The moves come a day after Biden was sworn in as the 46th president.

“In addition to wearing masks, everyone flying to the United States from another country will need to test before they get on that plane, before they depart, and quarantine when they arrive in America,” Biden said at a White House event where he signed the orders.

In terms of total deaths from coronavirus, the US is the worst-hit country with more than 406,000 lives lost, according to Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 24.5 million have been infected in the country.

US airlines and their employees have been seeking such a federal mask mandate almost since the pandemic began, as they have struggled to deal with scores of passengers who refuse to follow the airlines’ own mask-wearing rules.

But the previous Trump administration had refused to enact such a mask mandate, as the ex-president himself and many in his administration often made a point of going mask-less.

Biden’s plan starts with a national vaccination campaign in order to meet the President’s goal of administering 100 million shots, which is enough to cover 50 million Americans with vaccines that require two doses, in his first 100 days in office.

“Our national plan launches a full-scale wartime effort to address the supply shortages by ramping up production and protective equipment, syringes, needles, you name it. And when I say wartime, people look at me like wartime? Well, as I said last night, 4,00,000 Americans have died. That’s more than World War II… This is a wartime undertaking,” he said.

The death toll will likely top 5,00,000 next month, he said, adding that the cases will continue to mount.

“We didn’t get into this mess overnight and it’s going to take months for us to turn things around but let me be equally clear we will get through this, we will defeat this pandemic, and to a nation waiting for action, let me be the clearest on this point, help is on the way,” he said.

Unveiling a national strategy on COVID-19 and executive actions to beat the pandemic, Biden said this plan reflects the ideas he set forward during the campaign and they have been further refined over the last three months.

The national strategy is comprehensive and detailed, and is based on science and truth not politics and denial, he said.

He said the plan was developed with input from the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, among other advisers and experts. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biden’s chief medical adviser, was at the event at the White House, along with Biden’s Covid czar Jeff Zients.

Biden said the American public would be “hearing a lot more from Dr. Fauci again, not from the President, but from the real genuine experts and scientists,” in a veiled criticism of his predecessor Donald Trump.

The Trump administration was widely accused of failing to get to grips with the pandemic.

Biden said the plan starts with mounting an aggressive, safe, and effective vaccination campaign to meet the goal of administering 100 million shots in the first 100 days in office. 

“We are on day one. This will be one of the greatest operational challenges our nation has ever undertaken, and I am committed to getting it done; we’re committed to getting it done.

“We will move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated for free and create more places for them to get vaccinated to mobilise more medical teams to get shots in people’s arms and to increase vaccine supply and get it out the door as fast as possible,” he said. 

Biden said that he has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to start standing up the first federally supported community vaccination centres. The goal is to stand up 100 centres within the next month, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will launch the federal pharmacy programme to make vaccines available to communities beginning early February. 

“We will also task the Department of Health and Human Services to prepare and expand the pool of medical professionals who can administer the vaccine, and ensure that we have enough vaccinators to meet the nation’s needs and quickly,” he said. 

Biden also signed an executive action to use the Defense Production Act and all other available authorities to direct all federal agencies and private industry to accelerate the making of everything that’s needed to protect, test, vaccinate, and take care of people. 

Biden said that he, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the entire administration will always be honest and transparent with Americans about both the good news and the bad.

“We will level with you when we make a mistake. We’ll straight up say what happened,” he said.