Biden pledges 500M free virus tests to counter omicron

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fighting the omicron variant surging through the country, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the government would provide 500 million free rapid tests, increase support for hospitals under strain and redouble vaccination and boosting efforts.

At the White House on Tuesday, Biden detailed major changes to his COVID-19 winter plan, his hand forced by the arrival of the fast-spreading variant, whose properties are not yet fully understood by scientists.

Yet his message was clear that the winter holidays could be close to normal for the vaccinated while potentially dangerous for the unvaccinated.

His pleas are not political, he emphasized. He noted that former President Donald Trump has gotten his booster shot, and he said it’s Americans’ “patriotic duty” to get vaccinated.

“It’s the only responsible thing to do,” the president said. “Omicron is serious and potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people.”

Biden chastised social media and people on cable TV who have made misleading statements to discourage people from getting vaccinated.

“I know you’re tired, and I know you’re frustrated. We all want this to be over. But we’re still in it,” Biden said. “We also have more tools than we had before. We’re ready, we’ll get through this.”

Scientists don’t yet know everything about omicron yet, but they do know that vaccination should offer strong protections against severe illness and death.

The variant has spread at such an alarming rate that the Biden administration snapped quickly into action to offer new tests and additional aid.

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