Biden marks COVID ‘tragic milestone’ in US at global summit

Thursday, May 12, 2022
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The American flag flies at half-staff at the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 12, 2022, as the Biden administration commemorates 1 million American lives lost due to COVID-19. AP PHOTO

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden appealed to world leaders at a COVID-19 summit Thursday to reenergize a lagging international commitment to attacking the virus as he led the U.S. in marking the “tragic milestone” of 1 million deaths in America. He ordered flags lowered to half-staff and warned against complacency around the globe.

“This pandemic isn’t over,” Biden declared at the second global pandemic summit. He spoke solemnly of the once-unthinkable U.S. toll: “1 million empty chairs around the family dinner table.”

The coronavirus has killed more than 999,000 people in the U.S. and at least 6.2 million people globally since it emerged in late 2019, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Other counts, including by the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association, have the toll at 1 million.

“Today, we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States, 1 million COVID deaths,” he said.

The president called on Congress to urgently provide billions of dollars more for testing, vaccines and treatments, something lawmakers have been unwilling to deliver so far.

That lack of funding — Biden has requested an additional $22.5 billion in what he calls critically needed money — is a U.S. reflection of faltering resolve that jeopardizes the global response to the pandemic, he says.

Eight months after heused the first COVID summit to announce an ambitious pledge to donate 1.2 billion vaccine doses to the world, the urgency of the U.S. and other nations to respond has waned.

Momentum on vaccinations and treatments has faded even as more infectious variants rise and billions of people across the globe remain unprotected.

Biden addressed the opening of the virtual summit Thursday morning with recorded remarks and made the case that tackling COVID-19 “must remain an international priority.” The U.S. is co-hosting the summit along with Germany, Indonesia, Senegal and Belize.

“This summit is an opportunity to renew our efforts to keep our foot on the gas when it comes to getting this pandemic under control and preventing future health crises,” Biden said.

The U.S. has shipped nearly 540 million vaccine doses to more than 110 countries and territories, according to the State Department — far more than any other donor nation.

The leaders announced about $3 billion in new commitments to fight the virus, along with a host of new programs meant to boost access to vaccines and treatments around the world. But that was a far more modest outcome than at last year’s meeting.

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