Multi-pronged plan, to be detailed Thursday evening, reportedly includes $1,400 stimulus checks
Joe Biden is set to unveil a major coronavirus action plan and fresh aid package that aims to bring new urgency to the nation’s vaccination campaign, coupled with another round of economic relief for Americans.
The stimulus package has a price tag of around $1.9tn, the New York Times reported, and includes a commitment for $1,400 stimulus checks, according to multiple outlets.
Biden hopes his multi-pronged strategy, to be detailed in a Thursday evening speech, will put the country on the path to recovery by the end of his first 100 days. “It’s going to be hard,” Biden said on Monday after he got his second vaccine shot. “It’s not going to be easy. But we can get it done.”
A more disciplined focus on vaccination is the new and widely anticipated game-changing element. He is also expected to ask Congress for another round of economic relief. Biden has already tweeted his support for a $2,000 stimulus check, saying that the previous check of $600 was “not enough when you have to choose between paying rent or putting food on the table”.
Congress passed its long-delayed second aid package in December, with stimulus checks becoming a major sticking point. Democrats argued for a higher, $2,000 payment for individuals, which was eventually blocked by Republicans. Biden’s new plan looks likely to increase the $600 people received with a $1,400 top-up, CNN reports.
Biden will also ask Americans to override their sense of pandemic fatigue and recommit to wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding indoor gatherings, particularly larger ones.
The plan comes as a divided nation remains caught in the grip of the pandemic’s most dangerous wave yet. So far, more than 385,000 have died in the US.
And government numbers out on Thursday showed a jump in weekly unemployment claims, to 965,000, a sign that rising infections are forcing businesses to cut back and lay off workers.
The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said the Biden Covid-19 package will be the first order of business this year. Democrats expect it will also include more aid for unemployed workers as well as money for state efforts to contain the pandemic and sustain basic services.
Two highly effective vaccines are already being distributed in the US, and more are on the way. Yet a month after the first shots were given, the nation’s vaccination campaign is off to a slow start with about 10.3 million people getting the first of two shots, although more than 29m doses have been delivered.
Biden aims to speed that up by delivering more vaccine and working closely with states and local communities. The Trump administration provided the vaccine to states and set guidelines for who should get priority for shots, but largely left it up to state and local officials to organize their vaccination campaigns.
Biden has set a goal of administering 100m shots in his first 100 days. The pace of vaccination is approaching 1m shots a day, but 1.8m a day would be needed to reach widespread or “herd” immunity by the summer, according to a recent estimate by the American Hospital Association.
Trump’s leadership during the pandemic has been erratic. He backed “Operation Warp Speed” to quickly develop vaccines and treatments, but also picked fights with leading government scientists like Dr Anthony Fauci and his own appointees at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Biden has pledged to take his lead from science, and has named Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as his top medical adviser. He has tapped businessman Jeff Zients, who has a reputation for successfully tackling complex missions, to coordinate the government’s coronavirus response. He has also selected the Yale medicine professor Dr Marcella Nunez-Smith, to head an effort to ensure equity and fairness for racial and ethnic minorities in access to vaccines and treatments.
But he will need more than top-résumé talent, experts say. It is still unclear how the new administration will address the issue of vaccine hesitancy, with many Americans, including a worryingly high percentage of healthcare workers, saying they are wary of getting a shot.
Next Wednesday, when Biden will be sworn in as president, marks the first anniversary of the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in the United States.