Biden focuses on US coronavirus pandemic and hails vaccine progress
WILMINGTON, Delaware — President-elect Joe Biden will convene a task force on Monday to craft a plan for tackling the coronavirus pandemic in the United States and hailed progress on a vaccine, while President Donald Trump steadfastly refused to acknowledge his defeat.
Two days after clinching victory over the Republican president, Democrat Biden is set to give remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, about his plans to address the pandemic that has killed more than 237,000 Americans and to rebuild the economy.
He labeled as “great news” Pfizer Inc’s announcement on Monday that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective. Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE are the first drugmakers to release successful data from a large-scale clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine.
But Biden warned it would be “many more months before there is widespread vaccination” in the United States and underscored the importance for Americans of wearing protective masks to curb the spread of the pathogen.
“Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year. Today’s news is great news, but it doesn’t change that fact,” he said in a statement.
Biden will meet with a pandemic advisory board co-chaired by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler and Yale University Associate Professor Marcella Nunez-Smith.
“I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said.
Even as some of Trump’s allies encourage him to exhaust every recourse for hanging onto power, the task force will liaise with local and state officials to consider how to safely reopen schools and businesses and tackle racial disparities.
The Biden panel includes Rick Bright, a whistleblower who says he was removed from his Trump administration post for raising concerns about coronavirus preparedness, and Luciana Borio, who specializes in complex public health emergencies.
Trump has frequently clashed with top health officials over the pandemic. Vice President Mike Pence is due to meet on Monday with the White House coronavirus task force for the first time since October.
Wide lead in popular vote
Biden cleared the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House on Saturday, four days after the Nov. 3 election. He beat Trump by more than 4.3 million votes nationwide, with Trump becoming the first U.S. president since 1992 to lose a reelection bid.
Trump has not accepted defeat and has launched an array of lawsuits to press claims of election fraud for which he has produced no evidence. State officials have said they are not aware of any significant irregularities.
Asked when Trump would concede or call Biden, Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller on Monday told Fox Business Network: “That word’s not even in our vocabulary now. We’re going to pursue all these legal means, all the recount methods.”
Although the states have yet to officially certify final election results, in keeping with normal practice, presidential candidates traditionally have recognized the independent analysis of major U.S. media and companies such as Edison Research, which called the election for Biden on Saturday.
Trump has no public events scheduled for Monday, and has not spoken in public since Thursday. He plans to hold rallies to build support for his challenge to the results, campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
A top priority set by Biden is expanding healthcare access and buttressing the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 law known as Obamacare that has enabled millions of Americans to obtain medical insurance through expanded public programs and marketplaces for private policies.
A case to be argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday could change the parameters of his healthcare challenge.
The justices, with a 6-3 conservative majority, will mull whether to rule in favor of Trump and Republican-governed states including Texas seeking to invalidate the law even as the country struggles with a public health crisis.
Governments from around the world have congratulated Biden since Saturday, signaling they are turning the page.
But Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies have said intervened in the 2016 election to support Trump and then sought to disparage Biden in this year’s race, said on Monday it would wait for the official results before commenting on the outcome, noting Trump’s legal challenges. China was similarly cautious.
Biden’s advisers are moving ahead and considering candidates for Cabinet. But the transition cannot shift into high gear until the U.S. General Services Administration, which oversees federal property, certifies the winner.
Emily Murphy, the Trump appointee who runs the agency, has not yet done so and a GSA spokeswoman gave no timetable for the decision. Until then, the GSA can continue providing Biden’s team with offices, computers and background checks for security clearances, but they cannot enter federal agencies or access federal funds set aside for the transition.
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