Biden orders masks, travel clampdown in new war on Covid


President Joe Biden on Thursdaytightened mask wearing rules and ordered quarantine for people flying intothe United States, as he got to work on tackling the coronavirus pandemic onhis first full day in power, reports AFP.

Signing 10 executive orders in the White House, Biden told the nation thatthe Covid-19 death toll would likely rise from 400,000 to half a million nextmonth — and that drastic action was needed.

“We’re in a national emergency. It’s time we treated it like one,” he said,adding that he wants to restore public trust in the wake of the divisiveDonald Trump era.

Scientists, he said, will “work free from political interference” under his administration, and he pledged “We will level with you when we make a mistake.”

In addition to needing a negative Covid test result before flying,travelers to the US will now need to quarantine upon arrival, Biden said.

This toughened existing regulations under Trump.

Biden’s other orders included reenergizing a so-far-stumbling vaccinationprogram and expanding requirements to wear masks on public transport.

Wearing masks “has become a partisan issue, unfortunately, but it’s apatriotic act,” Biden said, in a marked contrast to Trump, who for monthsgave mixed messages about whether or not to encourage the practice.

Although vaccines were produced at a blistering speed in Trump’s final yearin power, the rollout has been chaotic.

“What we’re inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined,” JeffZients, the new White House Covid-19 response coordinator, told reporters.

Biden has announced a goal of 100 million vaccines administered in 100days, with his top experts saying it remains possible. So far, only 16.5million doses have been injected.

When asked Thursday if he had been ambitious enough, Biden shot back “WhenI announced it, you all said it’s not possible. Come on, give me a break,man.”

Biden said the administration was expanding places where Americans will be able to get their doses, with new community centers and extra medical staffto administer the vaccine.

He has also restored top infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci to aleading, visible advisory role in the White House, after Trump complainedabout the expert’s warnings on Covid.

Fauci, a regular presence in the White House before being effectivelybanished, was back in the briefing room Thursday — also pushing the messagethat public trust should be rebuilt.

“One of the things we’re going to do is to be completely transparent, openand honest if things go wrong,” he said, noting he had discussed this withBiden minutes earlier.

“The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know… it issomewhat of a liberating feeling,” Fauci said.

The pandemic has overshadowed the Biden administration from its firstmoments.

Only a few spectators were allowed to attend his swearing-in on Wednesdayand everyone, from the military band to his wife Jill, looked on from behindface masks.

Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, began their day on Thursday byparticipating in a traditional inaugural prayer service which also had to be conducted virtually, because of the coronavirus.

The flood of executive orders and other directives which Biden begansigning immediately on Wednesday has likewise focused mostly on his newnational mask and vaccination strategy.

In addition, he is bringing major firepower to trying to get a massivestimulus bill through Congress to help Americans.

He faces multiple other challenges, including the aftershocks of a giantgovernment computer hack blamed on Russia, and searing Trump-era political tensions — an issue that could soon take center stage in a Senate impeachment trial of the ex-president.

Other fronts that Biden has opened include new protections for so-called“Dreamers” — children of illegal immigrants who have now grown up in the country and had been shielded from deportation.

Yet another big blast at his predecessor’s record was to immediately putthe United States back into the Paris climate accord.

Although Biden won comfortably at the polls on November 3, Trump’s effortsto persuade tens of millions of followers that the election was stolen hasleft 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 bythe new vice president giving Democrats the most razor-thin of margins.

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

Late Wednesday, the 78-year-old president got his first cabinet-levelconfirmation Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence.

A Senate confirmation vote for Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin was scheduledfor Friday morning, followed by possible votes on Treasury nominee JanetYellen and top diplomat Antony Blinken.

Transportation Secretary pick Pete Buttigieg, a former rival of Biden inthe fight for the Democratic presidential nomination, appeared for a Senateconfirmation hearing on Thursday.