© Reuters. US President Biden speaks after he was sworn in during his inauguration at the US Capitol in Washington
By Trevor Hunnicutt and Nandita Bose
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden took swift action against the COVID-19 pandemic on his first full day at the White House Thursday, his top priority as he turned the page on Donald Trump's tumultuous leadership for four years.
Biden's government is seeking a coordinated federal coronavirus response to the 10-month pandemic, which will focus on increasing vaccines, increasing tests, reopening schools and eliminating inequalities caused by the disease.
Trump, who often tried to downplay the severity of the virus that killed more than 405,000 Americans, left much of the pandemic planning to individual states, creating a patchwork of policies across the country.
"We can and will beat COVID-19. America deserves a response to the COVID-19 pandemic driven by science, data and public health – not politics," the White House said in a statement in which it does Strategy against the coronavirus outlined.
The pandemic has killed and infected more people in the US than anywhere in the world and left millions unemployed due to lockdowns.
The virus cast a shadow over Biden's inauguration on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Crowds, often reaching hundreds of thousands to swear in a president, have been kept away for fear of the spread of infection.
Biden will sign a number of pandemic-related injunctions later Thursday, including wearing masks at airports and on certain public transport, including many trains, planes and intercity buses.
The administration will also expand vaccine manufacturing and its powers to purchase additional vaccines by "taking full advantage of the treaty authorities including the Defense Manufacture Act".
House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi said the data protection authority is also being used to expedite the delivery of protective equipment.
The Trump administration relied on the law, which gave the president broad powers to "expedite and expand the provision of US industrial base resources" for protective equipment, but never enacted it for testing or manufacturing vaccines.
Biden will also instruct the Federal Emergency Management Administration to fully reimburse states and tribes for National Guard-related virus-related costs.
The measure will restore "full reimbursement" of school reopening costs from the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund. FEMA funds are typically distributed after a hurricane, flood, or other natural disaster.
Biden was due to speak about his COVID-19 efforts at 2 p.m. (1900 GMT)
The new Democratic President has put the fight against the disease high on a daunting list of challenges, including rebuilding a devastated economy and tackling racial injustice. Other topics that the administration plans to address over the next 10 days are health care, immigration and climate change.
Biden signed 15 executive acts Wednesday after taking office, many of which aimed to overturn Trump's policies, including placing masks on federal property, resuming the Paris Climate Agreement and ending a travel ban on some Muslim-majority countries.
CHECK, DELIVER, TRAVEL LOGS
The 10 orders that Biden will sign on Thursday will set up a COVID-19 testing panel to expedite testing, address delivery bottlenecks, keep logs for international travelers, and channel resources to hard-hit minority communities.
Biden has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up the eligibility to more people such as teachers and grocers.
It will also issue a guideline intending to join the COVAX facility, which will deliver vaccines to poor countries, Biden's chief medical officer Anthony Fauci told the World Health Organization board on Thursday.
Trump had stopped funding the WHO and planned to retire from the group in July, which Biden reversed in an executive order upon taking office.
Fauci told ABC News that rejoining the WHO is a critical step in combating the outbreak.
"It's going to be really very important. When you're dealing with a global pandemic, you need to have international connectivity," he said.
He said he was confident the United States could recharge its vaccination response, although some states and communities have indicated they are running out of available doses.
Biden has proposed a $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 package designed to improve unemployment benefits and allow households to make direct cash payments to alleviate financial problems posed by the coronavirus.
The house plans to vote on a coronavirus relief law in the first week of February, Pelosi said Thursday.
Late on Wednesday, the Department of Education extended the hiatus in student loan payments and announced it would keep the interest rate at 0% to ease the financial burden amid the pandemic.
Some of Biden's early initiatives could be stuck in Congress where the Senate is considering how to proceed with the impeachment process against Trump. The House indicted Trump last week for instigating a riot in a deadly attack on the Capitol. Democrats now have a slim majority in both houses.
Pelosi has not yet sent the impeachment article to the Senate. A source familiar with the planning said it could happen as early as Friday.
Under the rules of the Senate, the trial would begin the day after the House brought the charges. However, it was unclear whether a delay could be possible, as some Democrats have suggested to keep Biden's agenda and cabinet appointments on track.