Coronavirus Pandemic Prompts Biden to Focus on Biological Threats

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday set in motion a plan to counter biological threats and prepare for the next pandemic after the COVID-19 coronavirus caused more than 1 million deaths in the United States.

Biden signed three documents on biodefense security aimed at establishing a strategy and an implementation plan to gird for the next time a virus spreads widely in the United States.

The National Biodefense Strategy, released by the White House, said the United States must address the “accidental release of biological agents, and threats posed by terrorist groups or adversaries seeking to use biological weapons.”

A memorandum signed by Biden sets up a policy coordination structure for biodefense among government agencies with oversight by the White House.

It directs the U.S. intelligence community to monitor for threats and ensure the United States “continuously adapts to this evolving threat landscape” by holding annual exercises, a senior administration official said in describing the new plan.

The plan calls for Congress to approve an $88 billion request over five years for pandemic preparedness and biodefense. The request has been stalled in Congress as lawmakers bicker over government spending.

The goal is to “prevent epidemics and biological incidents before they happen, whether they’re naturally occurring, deliberate or accidental,” the official said.

Questions about the origin of the coronavirus have never been fully resolved. The United States has suspicions that the virus originated in China despite Beijing’s denials.

The plan establishes a goal of “recruiting, training and sustaining a robust, permanent cadre of health workers in all 50 states” to confront biological threats, the official said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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