US president who campaigned on a promise to control COVID-19 will give a national address on prime-time television.
President Joe Biden, riding high on a significant legislative victory in the US Congress, signed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill at the White House on Thursday, marking one year of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Biden said in the Oval Office before signing the bill.
The Democratic president plans to deliver a prime-time speech on Thursday night commemorating losses from COVID-19 while expressing hope for the future as vaccinations increase.
Biden intends to convey fresh hope even as he urges people to continue to be cautious to prevent further flare-ups. It is a shift in tone from the president who has been warning Americans since taking office in January that more deaths and pain were coming.
In the past year, 530,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the US, one-fifth of all deaths worldwide from the virus. Now, with one out of 10 Americans fully vaccinated, infections and hospitalisations have been declining.
Biden said on Wednesday he would use his 8pm EST (01:00 GMT) address to discuss “what we’ve been through as a nation this past year”.
“But more importantly, I’m going to talk about what comes next. I’m going to launch the next phase of the COVID response and explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people,” Biden said.
Biden secured an early legislative victory this week as the Democratic-led Congress passed his $1.9 trillion pandemic-related stimulus bill, which his administration plans to highlight in coming weeks before pushing more of his campaign-trail “Build Back Better” plan. He is scheduled to sign the bill at the White House on Thursday.
The president is expected to warn Americans who are weary of pandemic restrictions not to revert to normal behaviour prematurely. He has urged continued mask-wearing, social distancing and good hygiene, and he has discouraged cities and states from loosening their guidelines on large gatherings even as more localities relax restrictions.
“We cannot let our guard down now or assume that victory is inevitable. Together, we’re going to get through this pandemic and usher in a healthier and more hopeful future,” Biden said at an event with the chief executives of Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co on Wednesday.
Top White House COVID-19 advisers and US lawmakers echoed his hopeful tone.
“We are starting to see some light. We are starting to see the end of the tunnel. And the Biden administration is doing everything to get vaccine shots into arms,” said Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, on Thursday.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, told NBC News on Thursday.
“By the time we get into the mid to late summer, early fall, we’re going to start seeing a big, big difference,” Fauci said.
White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt said on MSNBC that he was increasingly optimistic that the country could protect its vulnerable population.
“We need to do more and step on the gas the next few weeks and months to get that done, and you’re going to hear that from the president tonight,” Slavitt said.
As of Wednesday, nearly 128 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from the three authorised US providers had been distributed and nearly 96 million shots administered, government data showed.
Biden had campaigned for president in 2020 on a promise to curb the pandemic more effectively than his Republican predecessor Donald Trump.
Trump downplayed the crisis in its early stages and eschewed mask-wearing, while repeatedly predicting the virus would soon disappear even as his administration pushed to speed up vaccine development.
Trump and former first lady Melania Trump did not appear in a new public service announcement released on Thursday encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations and featuring all the other living former US presidents and their spouses.