Biden advisers urge immediate COVID-19 action as infections mount

A woman walks out of a drugstore in Times Square as New York City tries to contain a spike in COVID-19 cases. (AFP)
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Updated 16 November 2020

Biden advisers urge immediate COVID-19 action as infections mount

  • Biden’s COVID-19 team warns case numbers will grow substantially
  • Record increases in COVID-19 cases in 40 US states so far in November

WASHINGTON: US President-elect Joe Biden’s top advisers on Sunday called for urgent action to address the nation’s “deeply alarming” COVID-19 epidemic and warned that Republican President Donald Trump’s transition delay could further jeopardize the battle against the virus, including vaccine distribution planning.
They also urged Congress to immediately pass bipartisan financial relief even before Biden, a Democrat, takes office on Jan. 20, as daily COVID-19 cases shattered US records and strained hospitals nationwide, forcing a wave of new restrictions heading into the US holiday season.
“We are in a very dangerous period,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, a member of Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board and director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
Unless action is taken now, “we’re going to see these numbers grow substantially,” Osterholm warned. “Our future’s in our hands.”
Daily new infections in recent days have more than doubled single-day highs reported during the previous US peak in mid-July. Total US COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began are approaching 11 million, with 245,581 related deaths, the most in the world. The number of COVID-19 patients in US hospitals has reached an all-time high.
Spikes in cases have hit every US state. Several have implemented new mask mandates, imposed limits on gatherings and taken other public health measures despite earlier resistance as local health care systems reached a tipping point.
Basic public health measures such as face covering to curb the virus’ spread have become politicized under Trump, who has eschewed mask mandates even after contracting COVID-19 last month, while Biden has backed their widespread use.
Still, some Republican governors in recent days have been forced to act, with North Dakota joining 35 other states over the weekend in mandating masks and Iowa this week requiring them in certain circumstances.
Forty US states have reported record increases in COVID-19 cases so far in November, while 20 saw a record rise in deaths and 26 reported record hospitalizations, according to a Reuters tally.
Saturday’s 1,257 COVID-19 deaths marked the fifth consecutive day with more than 1,000 deaths in the United States.
Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming White House chief of staff, on Sunday urged Congress to immediately pass COVID-19 relief legislation with new restrictions certain to take a toll.
“This could be a first example of bipartisan action post-election,” Klain told NBC. He said Biden has spoken to congressional Democratic leaders, but not to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has so far refused to publicly acknowledge Biden as president-elect.
Leaders in cities and states, especially those that weathered large outbreaks in the spring, defended renewed actions despite next week’s Thanksgiving holiday and Americans’ weariness over battling the disease.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose stay-at-home restrictions begin on Monday, said as many as 1,000 city residents were projected to die without further steps.
“Standing by and watching that kind of devastation is just not something that I could abide. We are at a critical inflecting point,” she told MSNBC.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a tweet, said public schools would remain open there on Monday as infection positivity rates stayed below a 3% threshold.
Klain said there had been no formal contact between Biden’s advisory panel and the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which requires transition authorization from the General Services Administration.
“It’s really important in the smooth handing over of the information,” top US infectious disease expert and White House task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “It’s almost like passing a baton in a race, you don’t want to stop and give it to somebody, you just want to essentially keep going.”
Biden’s team this week planned to meet with Pfizer Inc. , which last week released positive initial data on its experimental COVID-19 vaccine, and other drugmakers, Klain said.
Former US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, head of Biden’s COVID team, told Fox News the coronavirus surge was “deeply alarming” but that a national lockdown was “a measure of last resort.”
“The better way to think about these safety restrictions is more a dial that we turn up and down depending on severity” in a given area, he said.


Indian farmers defiant against reform as Modi tries to calm anger

Updated 7 min 32 sec ago

Indian farmers defiant against reform as Modi tries to calm anger

  • The government on Saturday invited farmers’ union leaders for talks on new legislation to deregulate agriculture
  • Small growers worry they will be left vulnerable to big business

NEW DELHI: Thousands of Indian farmers, angry over reform of the agriculture sector, held a third day of protests on the outskirts of the capital on Sunday, blocking roads into the city and defying a government appeal to move to a designated site.
The government on Saturday invited farmers’ union leaders for talks on new legislation to deregulate agriculture but that has not calmed farmers’ anger over what many see “anti-farm laws,” and their action appeared to be spreading.
“We will stay put here today,” said Rakesh Tikait, spokesman of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, one of more than 30 protesting unions, as he and his members blocked a road on the eastern approaches to Delhi.
The farmers object to legislation introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in September that would let farmers sell their produce anywhere, including to big corporate buyers like Walmart, not just at government-regulated wholesale markets where growers are assured of a minimum price.
Small growers worry they will be left vulnerable to big business and could eventually lose price support for staples such as wheat and rice.
Modi sought to allay farmers’ concerns on Sunday.
“From these reforms, farmers will get new rights and opportunities,” he said in his monthly radio address.
But one farm union leader said many protesters were demanding that the government withdraw the laws.
“The farmers’ leaders will meet later on Sunday to decide their response to the government,” he said, referring to the government’s call for talks.
The protests began with farmers from the northern states of Haryana and Punjab on the outskirts of New Delhi on Friday, when police fired tear gas and water cannon in a bid to disperse them.
But instead farmers from the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh joined in over the weekend, blocking roads to the east of the capital.
Media reported protests by farmers in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala on Saturday.
Prices of fresh produce prices at wholesale markets in the city began to tick up and commuters have faced travel disruption. (Reporting by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Euan Rocha, Robert Birsel)