Biden says 4 July cookouts could mark ‘independence from virus’ but warns conditions ‘can change’

·5 min read
President spoke 50 days into his presidency (Getty Images)
President spoke 50 days into his presidency (Getty Images)

Joe Biden has told America he hopes the nation can celebrate 4 July cookouts as “independence” from the coronavirus, but warned he needs “everyone to do their part”.

In his first televised primetime address, considered a presidential rite of passage for every occupant of the Oval Office, Mr Biden said he was ordering that every adult be made eligible for one of the three approved vaccines by May 1.

He said he was also hopeful of pressing ahead with a plan to open most schools for youngsters from kindergarten to the eighth grade, within the first 100 days of his presidency.

“A year ago we were hit with a virus that was met with silence, and spread unchecked. Denials for days, weeks, then months. That led to more deaths,” he began in speech, in a clear reference to his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Later, he said he needed all Americans to do their part to fight the spread of the illness - to wear masks, get vaccinated and continue to observe social distancing. He warned it was not the time to give up such efforts.

“If we do all this, if we do our part, we do this together, by July Fourth there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard, or in your neighbourhood, and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day,” he added.

“That doesn’t mean large events, with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together. After this long hard year that will make this Independence Day something truly special, where we not only mark our independence as a nation, but we begin to mark our independence from this virus.”

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Mr Biden’s words, both sombre and hopeful, and stretching close to 24 minutes, came as the nation approached 30m infections of the disease, and 530,000 deaths.

In one dramatic flourish, he took from his pocket a piece of paper he said he carried with him every day, containing the total number of Americans whose lives had been taken by the disease, or else had fallen ill; as it was, the figure Mr Biden quoted was slightly less than the total tallied by the John Hopkins University of Medicine, but it was not far off.

“I promise I will do everything in my power. I will not relent until we beat this virus,” he said.

“But I need you. The American people, I need you, I need every American to do their part. That’s not hyperbole, I need you.”

The speech, delivered from the East Room of the White House, came on a day of no small significance. Precisely a year ago, Mr Trump had spoken from the Oval Office, to announce he was shutting down travel to Europe, as the pandemic took hold on the other side of the Atlantic.

In that instance, Mr Trump finished his remarks by saying: “I will always put the wellbeing of America first. If we are vigilant — and we can reduce the chance of infection, which we will — we will significantly impede the transmission of the virus. The virus will not have a chance against us.”

Yet, Mr Trump was widely condemned for what was seen as a refusal to either take the disease seriously, or lead the government’s response to it. Rather, he said it was the responsibility of individual states to confront the virus, something that led to chaos, waste and confusion.

The White House on Thursday said more than 81 million Americans had already been vaccinated, but that the president wanted to rapidly expand that number.

As part of a plan to try and return life to a version of normalcy, he is to deploy an additional 4,000 US troops to support coronavirus vaccination efforts, and greatly expand the number of people able to serve as vaccinators.

Dentists, paramedics, physician assistants, veterinarians and medical students will become eligible to administer vaccinations under new guidance, announced by the White House.

Another promise the president claimed he would meet was a plan to reopen most schools within 100 days of his taking office on January.

His speech took place the same day he signed into law a $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, the American Rescue Plan, that will help provide money into the hands of millions of Americans, and help fund more vaccination roll out, and testing.

It contains $130bn to help schools pay for mitigation, staff and other accommodations to try and protect against the spread of infection.

“Our children have lost so much time with their friends, time with their schools, - no graduation ceremonies,” he said. “You know, something else we lost. We lost faith in whether our government and our democracy can deliver … for the American people.”

While there was no immediate response to the speech from Mr Trump, Republicans and conservatives were quick to attack it.

“Unsurprising to anyone paying attention, Joe Biden was eerily silent on Governor Cuomo’s controversies surrounding his handling of Covid-19 in New York after receiving repeated praise from Biden over the past year,” said Republican National Committee spokesperson Michael Joyce.

Meanwhile, Fox New host Tucker Carlson began his evening show with an eruption at the president. “Who are you talking to? This is a free people, a free country. How dare you tell us who we can spend the Fourth of July with,” he said.

In his address, Mr Biden reflected that for so many people it was the “small things” of life they had missed.

“So many of you, as Hemingway wrote, ‘being strong in all the broken places’,” he said. “I know it’s been hard. I truly know.”

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