Biden defends COVID-19 pandemic response amid Omicron surge

CHICAGO: President Joe Biden and top health officials on Tuesday (Jan 11) defended the administration’s response to the unrelenting pandemic as daily US COVID-19 cases reached a new high, largely fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Biden, who has been accused of focusing on vaccinations at the expense of testing and support for struggling healthcare systems, told reporters on Tuesday he was “confident we’re on the right track” to fight the pandemic.

The United States reported 1.35 million new coronavirus infections on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, the highest daily total for any country in the world. Omicron was estimated to account for 98.3 per cent of total new coronavirus cases circulating in the country as of Jan. 8, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday.

The surge in cases and hospitalisations has forced Americans to cancel travel plans, shuttered entertainment venues, and scrambled plans for students and teachers to return to school and workers to go back to the office.

A closely watched projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington estimates that number is far higher due to the likelihood that many more infections go undetected, either because people are without symptoms or do not have access to testing.

As a result, the IHME model suggests that the US surge fueled largely by Omicron may have already hit a daily peak of more than 6 million cases, and could drop significantly from that point by the end of this month. But disruptions to health systems, schools and businesses might not resolve quickly even as infections decrease.

After nearly a month of rising COVID-19 case numbers in New York state, Governor Kathy Hochul said Tuesday that the tide might be turning.

While daily new infections remain high with 48,686 new cases reported on Monday, Hochul said the downward trajectory offered a “glimmer of hope.”

“Looks like we might be cresting over that peak,” the governor said at a news conference.

The Red Cross declared a national blood crisis, with a 10 per cent decline in the number of people donating blood. It noted the pandemic has led to blood drive cancellations and staffing limitations.

“Adding to the concern is the surge of COVID-19 cases,” the Red Cross said. “The Red Cross has experienced low donor turnout ever since the Delta variant began spreading in August, and that trend continues as the Omicron variant takes over.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the country has the tools needed to fight the fast-spreading variant.

“We are working quickly to adapt to it,” Walensky told the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee on Tuesday.

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