Biden announces free rapid tests in a bid to curb the spread of the Omicron variant – .

Biden announces free rapid tests in a bid to curb the spread of the Omicron variant – .

Americans will no longer have to pay for Covid-19 home testing as part of plans announced Thursday by Joe Biden to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, a day after the first case was confirmed in the United States.

In a speech at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, the president described a series of measures to limit infections during the winter, including free rapid tests, an extended mask mandate on public transportation, and Stricter testing requirements for international travelers.

“This new variant is worrying, but don’t panic. We knew there would be cases. . . but we have the best tools, the best vaccines in the world, the best drugs and the best scientists in the world, ”Biden said. “We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion. “

The president has refrained from imposing some of the more stringent measures used in other countries, such as imposing tests or quarantine requirements on travelers after arriving in the United States.

Officials said in a statement, “Today’s actions will ensure that we use these tools as effectively as possible to protect the American people from this variant and to continue to fight the Delta variant during the winter months,” when viruses tend to thrive. “

Biden insisted that the United States was in a “better position” to slow the spread of the new variant than it was a year ago: “Since the first day of my administration, we have done everything possible to defeat this virus, and that is what we must continue to do.

The United States has confirmed two cases of the heavily mutated Omicron variant, although officials said they expected more to emerge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday the variant was discovered in an individual who returned from South Africa on November 22, two days before Omicron was first reported to the World Health Organization. .

Scientists said the number of mutations in the new strain made it likely that vaccines would be less effective against it. Stéphane Bancel, managing director of vaccine maker Moderna, told the Financial Times this week that he expected a “significant drop” in the effectiveness of existing inoculations against Omicron.

Countries rushed to impose stricter rules in an attempt to block the new variant. The UK has announced masks will be mandatory in indoor public spaces, while Israel has said it will close its borders to international arrivals for two weeks.

The Biden administration’s new public health policies, in particular, allow people with private health insurance to recover the cost of rapid home antigen tests from their insurer. The administration will also send tests to be distributed to clinics and health centers for uninsured people in private.

Starting early next week, every traveler will need to test negative within 24 hours of boarding a flight to the United States and will be required to wear a mask on board – a requirement that is extended at least until March.

But unlike many countries, the United States does not require international arrivals to be tested or quarantined after landing in the country. It also doesn’t follow the UK’s lead of requiring people to take polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests, rather than antigen tests, which have a higher likelihood of missing the strain. Omicron.

Post-arrival measures can be difficult to implement in the United States because they are imposed by state governors rather than the federal government. Many Republican governors, in particular, have resisted the imposition of Covid restrictions in recent months.

A senior official said: “If additional measures can be implemented well and are effective, we will not hesitate to take them. But we don’t take them today.

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