Image source, Reuters
US President Joe Biden’s administration is to make 500 million rapid tests for Covid available free, amid new measures to tackle the surging Omicron variant.
Mr Biden will address the nation later, telling people to protect themselves as the holiday season gets under way.
There will be more vaccines and more support for hospitals, but no need for a lockdown, a senior official said.
Omicron has become the dominant strain in the US, accounting for nearly three-quarters of all new cases.
It was first identified in southern Africa last month but has now spread around the globe.
Although 73% of adult Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid, the administration remains concerned about those who have not had jabs.
The senior official said: “If you are unvaccinated, you are at high risk of getting sick. This variant is highly transmissible and the unvaccinated are eight times more likely to be hospitalised and 14 times more likely to die from Covid.”
The White House said the measures Mr Biden was announcing would “mitigate the impact unvaccinated individuals have on our health care system”.
The announcement came as US media reported the death from Omicron of an unvaccinated man in Texas.
The 50-year-old from Harris County is believed to be the first known recorded fatality from the variant in the US.
Mr Biden will say in his address later that even vaccinated Americans are going to be infected by the new variant, but that they will become far less sick than the unvaccinated.
He will stress the need for mask wearing, particularly when travelling, and caution while celebrating.
Omicron has created concern in a number of US cities, with people in New York, Washington and elsewhere queuing up for tests ahead of meeting up with family members.
And in New York, where cases rose 60% in the week ending on Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised a $100 (£76) reward to anyone who got a booster jab between now and the end of December.
Covid-19 cases in the US nationally are up 57% since the start of this month, Reuters reports.
But the Biden administration insists it has “the tools to get through this wave”, the official quoted earlier said, adding: “There is no need to lock down our schools, nor our economy.”
The purchase of 500 million tests contrasts with a comment by White House press secretary Jen Psaki just two weeks ago.
She asked: “Should we just send one to every American? Then what happens if every American has one test? How much does that cost, and then what happens after that?”
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