President-elect Joe Biden has implored all Americans to wear face masks as he warned of a “dark winter” in the US due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Expressing a message of unity, he said: “I implore you, wear a mask. Do it for yourself. Do it for your neighbor. A mask is not a political statement. But it is a good way to start pulling the country together.”
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Mr Biden claimed that tens of thousands of lives could be saved in the next few months if everyone wore a face covering.
He said the challenge facing the country over COVID-19 is still “immense” and “growing” despite news of a vaccine breakthrough.
Mr. Biden, who won’t officially become America’s next leader until January, has been briefed on the epidemic by his newly-appointed taskforce of medical experts.
He has welcomed the news about a breakthrough by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in the race for an effective COVID-19 vaccine.
But he cautioned that Americans still need to take mask wearing and social distancing seriously.
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He and vice president-elect Kamala Harris took notes during the virtual briefing at a theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, as the members introduced themselves.
The taskforce of more than a dozen experts has been set up to provide advice to the soon-to-be commander-in-chief about how to tackle soaring COVID-19 infections in the US.
His first order of business will be trying to bring down the cases and deaths, which have totaled more than 9.9 million and over 237,000 in the US respectively – the highest of any country in the world.
The first to speak at the briefing was Dr. David Kessler, a former Food Drug Administration commissioner under ex-presidents George H W Bush and Bill Clinton.
He is co-chairing the taskforce with Dr Vivek Murthy, who served as surgeon general under former president Barack Obama.
Dr Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale University associated professor and associate dean, is also a co-chair. Her research focuses on promoting health care equality for marginalised populations.
Also part of the group is Rick Bright, a whistleblower who was demoted after hitting out at the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic. Mr. Bright had been head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
Mr. Biden has said the experts will “help take the Biden-Harris COVID plan and convert it into an action blueprint”.
He pledged: “That plan will be built on a bedrock of science. It will be constructed out of compassion, empathy, and concern. I will spare no effort – or commitment – to turn this pandemic around.”
Mr Biden made coronavirus a major feature of his victory speech at a drive-in rally in Delaware on Saturday night, after finally being projected to win the 2020 election earlier in the day.
“We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, or relish life’s most precious moments – hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us – until we get this virus under control,” he said.
The president-elect’s website says his administration will double the number of drive-through testing centres, increase PPE provision and expand the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s monitoring of China to prevent incoming threats.
It is a markedly different tone from outgoing President Donald Trump, who is still refusing to concede the election and has been criticized for his actions and comments on COVID-19.
He caught the disease in October, following a White House event to announce the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice where most attendees sat packed together not following social distancing rules nor wearing masks.