Biden announces measures to combat spread of variants as new cases are detected in several states

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The European Union’s public health agency said on Thursday that the Omicron variant could be responsible for more than half of all Covid-19 infections in Europe within months, but no cases of serious illness had yet been identified in the area. Meanwhile, in the United States, health authorities in five states identified variant cases after the first American case was detected on Wednesday.

The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa last week and has since spread to dozens of countries around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the new strain poses a “very high” global risk and urged governments to speed up vaccination of high priority groups.

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3:55 a.m. CEST: Biden announces measures to combat Omicron variant as new cases are detected in New York, Hawaii

US President Joe Biden announced a winter campaign against Covid-19 on Thursday, with new testing requirements for travelers and increased vaccination efforts as the new Omicron variant threatens to reignite the pandemic.

Urging the nation – especially its political rivals – to unite behind the strategy, Biden unveiled a series of actions designed to curb Covid-19 in the coming months, as Omicron’s latest variant spreads through the whole world.

Ten cases of the new strain have so far been confirmed in the United States, including five in New York announced Thursday evening by State Governor Kathy Hochul, one in the Pacific island state of Hawaii and a second case in California.

The Hawaii case and the Minnesota case both involved residents with no recent history of international travel, indicating that the strain is already circulating within the country.

“This is a case of community spread. The individual has no travel history, ”the Hawaii Department of Health said in a statement regarding Omicron’s confirmed case on the island.

Biden’s updated actions include a requirement that all inbound international travelers be tested within one day of the flight.

This will apply to all travelers, US and foreign, regardless of their vaccination status, a US official said.

For domestic travelers, Biden will announce he is extending a mask tenure on planes, trains and other public transportation until mid-March.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that testing and vaccine requirements could potentially be added to domestic flights as well. “Nothing is out of place,” she said.

The barrage of measures is in part intended to reassure Americans that Biden is doing everything possible to prevent the pandemic from derailing the impressive U.S. economic recovery – and the winter recess.

In addition to his public rollout, Biden wrote a column for the Friday edition of the national mass-circulation newspaper USA Today to allay Americans’ “unease” about the new variant and Covid in general.

“We’re going to push it back with science and speed, not chaos and confusion, like we did in the spring and again with the more powerful delta variant in the summer and fall,” the president wrote.

Biden and colleagues recently stressed that there would be no going back to massive shutdowns.

But the White House also faces the challenge that many Americans are unresponsive to Biden’s calls for collective action.

Despite ever more creative attempts to encourage people to get vaccinated, around 40 percent of the country has not yet been fully vaccinated, and recall rates are also lagging behind.

Biden said an increase in awareness of vaccines and booster shots is underway, with a nationwide campaign targeting recipients of Medicare public health care. The government will team up with AARP, a large lobby group representing people aged 50 and over.

At the other end of the age scale, the Biden administration will try to keep schools from reverting to mass closures.

“We are expanding our efforts to immunize children ages five and older,” Biden said. “For any parent worried about the Omicron variant or the Delta variant, get your child immunized at one of 35,000 sites nationwide. “

In another reinforcement of existing policies, the White House will encourage the use of home test kits by announcing that health insurance must cover 100% of the cost.

For those who do not have health insurance, there will be an increase in the availability of free kits.

The kits currently sell for around $ 25, instead of being available for free or at nominal costs among peer countries in Europe.

(AXADLETM with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

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