Biden implores Trump to confront a surging coronavirus pandemic

Mr Donald Trump vowed not to order widespread lockdowns as long as he remained in office. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - US President-elect Joe Biden demanded on Friday (Nov 13) that President Donald Trump do more to confront the coronavirus infections exploding across the country, calling the federal response "woefully lacking" even as Mr Trump broke a 10-day silence on the pandemic to threaten to withhold a vaccine from New York.

In a blistering statement, Mr Biden said that the recent surge, which is killing more than 1,000 Americans and hospitalising almost 70,000 every day, required a "robust and immediate federal response".

"I will not be president until next year," Mr Biden said.

"The crisis does not respect dates on the calendar; it is accelerating right now. Urgent action is needed today, now, by the current administration - starting with an acknowledgment of how serious the current situation is."

Mr Biden released his statement less than an hour before the president appeared in the Rose Garden at the White House, where he announced no new measures to slow the virus's long-anticipated autumn surge, which he hardly acknowledged.

Mr Trump hailed the news from Monday that a vaccine under development by Pfizer appeared to be 90 per cent effective. But he vowed not to order widespread lockdowns as long as he remained in office and threatened to withhold distribution of the vaccine to New York because Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state intended to conduct its own review of the vaccine's approval by the federal government.

"He doesn't trust the fact that it's this White House, this administration, so we won't be delivering it to New York until we have authorisation to do so," Mr Trump told reporters in only his second public remarks since Election Day.

"So the governor will let us know when he's ready. He's had some very bad editorials recently about this."

It is not clear whether Mr Trump would be able to follow through on that threat before he leaves office.

Health care workers, older adults and other vulnerable populations could get access to a vaccine by mid-December, well before Mr Biden's Jan 20 inauguration.

Standing next to Mr Trump on Friday afternoon, Moncef Slaoui, a pharmaceutical executive who was appointed by the president to oversee the vaccine development and distribution effort known as Operation Warp Speed, said that approximately 20 million people could be vaccinated in the United States in December.

But by the time broader distribution of a vaccine is underway in the spring, Mr Trump's presidency will have long ended.

A spokesperson for Mr Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, responded on Twitter, saying that Mr Trump "has failed with his pandemic response, lied to Americans about how bad it was when he knew otherwise & was fired by voters for his incompetence. @NYGovCuomo is fighting to ensure the communities hit hardest by COVID get the vaccine. Feds providing 0 resources."

Federal resources were very much on the minds of state officials as they grappled with infection numbers shooting skyward and hospitals on the verge of being overrun.

Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin, where the number of new cases reached a daily record 8,256 on Thursday, said whatever Mr Trump said now could not make up for his refusals to wear a mask and his embrace of large public gatherings, at campaign rallies and at the White House.

While the outgoing administration could still help, Mr Evers said, "they also report to a president who, frankly, isn't the most consistent one as it relates to the things that count: masks and making sure you're not in public gatherings with a whole bunch of people to spread the disease."

"They're not going to play a huge political role here," he added.

On Friday, Slaoui told The Financial Times that Mr Trump's administration should share information about the program with Mr Biden's transition team, something that has not yet happened because Trump has refused to concede defeat.

"It is a matter of life and death for thousands of people," he told the newspaper. "The operation has always been about making vaccines and therapeutics available faster for the country and for the world."

Mr Biden's statement on Friday underscored his pledge to make the pandemic his top priority when he takes office. Since claiming victory last Saturday, the president-elect has named a 13-member Covid advisory board, delivered several speeches about the topic, and repeatedly urged the public to wear masks and practice social distancing.

By contrast, since Election Day, Mr Trump has tweeted more than 264 times, much of it falsely claiming that the election was stolen from him and only twice about the virus.

There have been no public briefings by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and little public guidance on the pandemic's latest deadly surge.

Some federal officials - notably Dr Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, and Dr Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator - have continued to speak out.

"I'm not silent, that's for sure," Dr Fauci said in an interview this week.

Dr Fauci, who has not spoken to Mr Trump since weeks before Election Day, added that he was convinced the United States could turn the current trends around if everyone wore a mask, practised social distancing and avoided crowded settings, particularly indoors.

"Those are tools that have been shown to be effective in blunting surges," he said.

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