Half a billion at-home coronavirus tests will be sent free to the American public in the fight against Omicron, Joe Biden announced on Tuesday, while pushing back against resistance to vaccine mandates by saying they are intended “not to control your life, but to save your life”.
The move is part of a renewed White House effort that includes the Pentagon calling up 1,000 troops to deploy to hard-hit hospitals and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) working to expand medical capacity.
But as Covid-19 once again rages across America via the new Omicron variant, the president, speaking from the White House, did not discourage Christmas gatherings, impose vaccine mandates for domestic air travel or seek a new round of lockdowns.
“I know some Americans are wondering if you can safely celebrate the holidays with your family and friends – the answer is yes, you can, if you and those you celebrate with are vaccinated, particularly if you’ve gotten your booster shot,” Biden said.
The public should be “concerned” but not “panicked” about Omicron, he added. “This is not March of 2020. Two hundred million people are vaccinated. We’re prepared. We know more. We just have to stay focused.”
Federal health officials said on Monday that Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is now the dominant version in the US, accounting for three in four new infections last week. Biden, who earlier this month unveiled a winter plan to combat the pandemic dogging his political fortunes, has been forced to revise his strategy.
He announced that his administration is buying 500m at-home, rapid tests this winter to be distributed for free to Americans who want them, with initial delivery starting next month. A website will enable people to order them to be delivered to their home for free.
The decision follows growing pressure on the White House to make free tests more widely available. At a recent briefing, the press secretary, Jen Psaki, asked sarcastically: “Should we just send one to every American?” Critics pointed out that the UK does just that and wondered why the US could not follow suit.
Biden said: “The federal government will purchase one half billion … additional at-home rapid tests with delivery starting in January. We’ll be getting these tests to Americans for free and we’ll have websites where you can get them delivered to your home.”
A sixfold increase in Omicron’s share of Covid-19 infections in just one week has led to long queues at …….