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Biden unveils sweeping Covid-19 plan in first full day in office

Already in his first hours yesterday, Biden entered the Oval Office and signed 17 executive orders.

US President Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden
Image: Alex Brandon via PA Images

Updated Jan 21st 2021, 9:47 PM

TRAVELERS TO THE US will be required to quarantine on arrival while masks will be mandated on many domestic trains, planes and buses, President Joe Biden said today as he signed a raft of new executive orders to curb the Covid pandemic.

The new leader of the world’s hardest-hit country has made fighting the coronavirus one of his top priorities, describing the endeavour as a “wartime undertaking” as he spoke to reporters from the Oval Office.

More than 408,000 people have died from the disease in the US, which is more than the total military fatalities the country experienced in World War II.

“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,” he said.

The testing requirement was announced by the previous administration of Donald Trump, but quarantine was only a recommendation.

It comes as alarming, more contagious new variants of the virus have emerged around the world. One particular mutation from South Africa has raised concerns over vaccine effectiveness.

Biden added he was signing a new order “to extend masking requirements on interstate travel, like on trains, planes and buses.”

The measures are part of Biden’s national strategy that is outlined in a 200-page document that foresees scaling up vaccinations, testing, returning students to school and rebuilding trust with the public among other goals.

The president is also seeking $1.9 trillion from Congress for a Covid relief package.

The administration plans to invoke emergency legislation called the Defense Production Act to increase industrial output of vaccines and other medical supplies, while also setting up thousands of federal testing sites.

Biden said he expected a federal pharmacy vaccination program to begin “by the seventh or eighth of February.”

As of Wednesday, 35.9 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna shots had been distributed to states, while 16.5 million have reached arms as either the first or second injection — a rate of 46 percent.

The administration will be seeking to boost the supply while reducing distribution bottlenecks.

While the measures mark a clear break from Trump’s administration, it was unclear how some of them, including the widened mask mandate and quarantine measure, would be enforced.

Narrow majority

Although Biden won comfortably on 3 November, Trump’s efforts to persuade tens of millions of followers that the election was stolen has left the veteran Democrat with a hostile opposition.

Democrats now control both chambers of Congress, but the existing majority in the House of Representatives narrowed in the November election.

In the Senate, the two parties are split 50-50, with a tie-break vote by the new vice president giving Democrats the most razor-thin of margins.

That landscape ensures Biden’s administration an uphill climb to get things moving. Even confirmation of his cabinet nominees risks getting tied up.

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Last night, he got his first cabinet-level confirmation: Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence.

And today, transportation secretary pick Pete Buttigieg, a former rival of Biden in the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination, appeared for a Senate confirmation hearing.

© AFP 2021

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