US pledges $580m to international COVID fight amid Omicron spread

The announcement comes as the Biden administration released a raft of measures aimed at ramping up domestic response.

Health officials have warned of surging Omicron cases and called for more support to stop the spread [File: Matt Rourke/AP Photo]

The United States will give an additional $580m to international efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic amid a surge in cases of the Omicron variant.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the announcement on Tuesday, shortly before he said he is set to meet his counterparts from other countries to discuss global cooperation in responding to Omicron, which officials say has already become the dominant strain of the virus in the US.

“The rapid spread of the Omicron variant reinforces that we must all continue to accelerate our efforts to end this pandemic and that none of us are safe until all of us are safe,” Blinken said in a statement.

“The world is at a critical point in our global response to this virus.”

The additional funding will go to several United Nations bodies that deal directly with responding to the pandemic, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The additional funds bring overall US assistance to the global coronavirus response to $19.6bn, according to the State Department.

Public health officials say the global response to the pandemic has fallen short in 2021, with many countries well below the WHO target of having 40 percent of their populations vaccinated by the end of the year.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, health authorities have warned that a situation where low-income countries are unable to vaccinate their populations would prolong the global health crisis and lead to the emergence of potentially vaccine-resistant variants.

Early studies showing that some current vaccines require booster shots to neutralise Omicron have further increased the urgency.

“I call on my counterparts to fulfil and bolster their commitments in fighting the pandemic,” Blinken said. “We must work together, and we must act quickly.”

500 million tests

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden, who is set to give an address on the government’s response to the Omicron surge later in the day, released a raft of domestic measures.

In particular, the White House said the federal government will buy 500 million rapid COVID test kits, which it will start distributing to residents for free starting in January.

To assist hospitals buckling under the new COVID-19 wave, Washington is also prepared to deploy an additional 1,000 military personnel with medical skills as well as direct federal medical personnel to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont, the White House said.

On Monday, White House spokesman Jen Psaki said Biden’s upcoming speech will highlight the government’s strategy based on getting more people to get vaccinated and get booster shots.

There are currently 40 million eligible unvaccinated adults in the US, according to officials. Only about 30 percent of vaccinated people eligible to receive a booster have so far gotten one.

“This is not a speech about locking the country down,” Psaki said on Monday. “This is a speech about the benefits of being vaccinated.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies