United States President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled sweeping measures to battle the coronavirus pandemic, by signing new executive orders and presidential directives to ramp up testing, mandate mask wearing and establish protocols for international travel.

“This is a wartime undertaking,” the Democratic president said at a White House event, according to Reuters. The pandemic has killed 4,05,000 people and infected more than 2.4 crore in the United States – the highest in the world.

Biden signed an order requiring anybody travelling to the US to be tested for coronavirus before flying, and to subsequently quarantine on arrival. The details were released in a 200-page document called “National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness”.

Among other actions signed by Biden on Thursday was an order requiring mask-wearing at airports and on certain public transportation, including trains, airplanes and inter-city buses.

The administration further plans to mount an “aggressive, safe, and effective vaccination campaign” to meet the goal of administering 100 million shots in Biden’s first 100 days in office. Biden said that he had directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build community vaccination centres in the county, reported PTI. The goal is to set up 100 centres within the next month, he said.

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The president said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would also start a programme to distribute Covid-19 vaccines through pharmacies. “We will also task the Department of Health and Human Services to prepare and expand the pool of medical professionals who can administer the vaccine, and ensure that we have enough vaccinators to meet the nation’s needs and quickly,” he added.

The administration will also expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defense Production Act,” according to the plan. The previous Donald Trump administration had invoked the law, which grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the US industrial base” for protective gear. However, he never enacted it for testing or vaccine production, according to Reuters.

‘War time undertaking’

At an event organised at the White House on Thursday, Biden said the rollout of the vaccine in the United States had been a “dismal failure so far”. He said it would take US months “to turn things around”.

“Our national plan launches a full-scale wartime effort to address the supply shortages by ramping up production and protective equipment, syringes, needles, you name it,” the president added. “And when I say wartime, people look at me like wartime? Well, as I said last night, 4,00,000 Americans have died. That’s more than World War II... this is a wartime undertaking”.

He made a personal plea to all Americans to wear masks over the next 99 days to stop the spread of the virus. “The experts say, by wearing a mask from now until April, we’d save more than 50,000 lives,” Biden said.

Biden said that he, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the entire administration will always be honest and transparent with Americans about both the good news as well as the bad. “We’ll straight up say what happened,” he added.

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