Omicron: Biden unveils new Covid-19 winter measures

President Biden has said he believes the new variant is "not a cause for panic" and is unlikely to result in new domestic lockdowns.

Omicron: Biden unveils new Covid-19 winter measures
People in masks

The US has confirmed a second case of the Omicron coronavirus variant as President Joe Biden unveiled a new "action plan" for the winter months.

A Minnesota resident was found to have the variant after attending a convention in New York, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The first US case was announced on Wednesday in California.

The White House is renewing a push for jabs amid the rapid global spread of Omicron.

However, President Biden has said he believes the new variant is "not a cause for panic" and is unlikely to result in new domestic lockdowns.

"We're going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion," he said in remarks on Thursday.

The administration's plan for the winter months consists of steps to encourage all adults to get their booster vaccines, including through a public education campaign and more targeted outreach.

Over 40 million Americans have received their boosters, but Mr Biden said nearly 100 million more are eligible and have not yet had theirs.

The president also announced that hundreds of family vaccination clinics will be set up across the country in an attempt to increase vaccination rates among children and teenagers.

The plan will also make available millions of free at-home tests for over-the-counter pickup through private insurance companies for those who have coverage and through health centres and rural clinics for those who do not.

The US will accelerate the delivery of 200 million more vaccine doses abroad over the next 100 days, Mr Biden added.

In addition, the White House is laying out new, stricter testing requirements for international travel: all passengers must provide a negative test result from within 24 hours of their departure, regardless of their vaccination status.

The US and several other countries have also banned travel from eight southern African countries.

Health experts have said travel restrictions will buy them time to study the new variant. It is still not clear whether the variant is associated with more transmission or more risk of evading vaccines.

Mr Biden pointed out that his plan "doesn't include shutdowns or lockdowns" and "does not expand or add to [federal vaccine] mandates".

"I know Covid-19 has been very divisive in this country," he said, adding "all Americans hopefully can rally around" the new measures.

With the rise of the Omicron variant, Joe Biden is back in front of the American people later with another set of steps to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Unlike his last major action, however, the administration's plan is light on government mandates - perhaps a reflection of the political firestorm his previous orders created and the legal morass that has enveloped them.

Instead, Biden is pushing for greater access to testing and encouraging, but not requiring, all Americans to get vaccination booster shots.

He also makes specific mention of keeping schools open and children in classrooms - a reflection of the white-hot rage last year's extended closures generated among some suburban parents, who have become a key part of the Democrats' electoral voting bloc.

When Biden assumed the presidency earlier this year, he acknowledged the success of his tenure would be determined in large part by his ability to contain the pandemic and return a semblance of normalcy to American life.

After some early positive results, the rise of new variants - along with vaccine hesitancy among some in the US - dampened those hopes and exacted an economic and political toll.

Today's actions suggest Biden knows a return to normal is still a long way off.