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Covid: Biden sets May 1 target to have all adults vaccine-eligible

AP/Washington
Filed on March 12, 2021
US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks on the anniversary of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, in the East Room of the White House. — AFP

The US President says the fight is not over, but hopes to mark independence from the virus by July the 4th

One year after the nation was brought to a near-standstill by the coronavirus, President Joe Biden used his first prime-time address on Thursday night to announce his plan to make all adults vaccine-eligible by May 1 and “begin to mark our independence from this virus” by the Fourth of July. He offered Americans fresh hope and appealed anew for their help.

Speaking in the White House East Room, Biden announced moves to speed vaccinations, including lifting eligibility qualifications, deploying an additional 4,000 active-duty troops to support vaccination efforts and allowing more people — such as medical students, veterinarians and dentists — to deliver shots.

He is also directing more doses toward some 950 community health centres and up to 20,000 retail pharmacies, to make it easier for people to get vaccinated closer to their homes.

His aim: Let Americans gather at least in small groups for July Fourth and “make this Independence Day truly special”.

Biden was marking one year since the onset of the pandemic that has killed more than 530,000 Americans and disrupted the lives of countless more.

“While it was different for everyone, we all lost something,” Biden said, calling the past year “a collective suffering, a collective sacrifice.”

Earlier on Thursday, Biden signed into law a $1.9 trillion relief package that he said will help defeat the virus, nurse the economy back to health and deliver direct aid to Americans in need. Some direct checks could begin arriving this weekend.

“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Biden said as he signed the bill in the Oval Office.

In his Thursday night address, Biden said that as vaccine supplies continue to increase, he will direct states and territories to make all adults eligible for vaccination by May 1. The US is expecting delivery of enough doses for those 255 million adults by the end of that month, but the process of actually administering those doses will take time.

Biden said his administration is launching a nationwide website to help people find doses, saying it would address frustrations so that there would be “no more searching day and night for an appointment”.

Even as he offered optimism, Biden made clear that the July 4 timetable applied only to smaller gatherings, not larger ones, and requires cooperation from Americans to continue to wear face coverings, maintain social distancing and follow federal guidelines meant to slow the spread of the virus in the near term. He also called on them roll up their sleeves to get vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible.

This is “not the time to not stick with the rules”, Biden said, warning of the potential for backsliding just as the nation is on the cusp of defeating the virus. “I need you, the American people,” he added. “I need you. I need every American to do their part.”

Almost exactly one year ago, President Donald Trump addressed the nation to mark the WHO’s declaration of a global pandemic. He announced travel restrictions and called for Americans to practise good hygiene but displayed little alarm about the forthcoming catastrophe. Trump, it was later revealed, acknowledged that he had been deliberately “playing down” the threat of the virus.

For Biden, who has promised to level with the American public after the alternate reality of Trump’s virus talk, the imperative is to strike the correct balance “between optimism and grief,” said Princeton history professor and presidential scholar Julian Zelizer.





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