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Biden mourns 1 million US Covid deaths as ‘irreplaceable losses’



CNN
 — 

President Joe Biden on Thursday mourned 1 million American deaths from Covid-19, using the occasion to again urge Congress to pass additional funding to control the pandemic.

While other official tallies have placed the figure a bit short of that mark, Biden marked the moment during the White House’s latest virtual Global Covid-19 Summit, reflecting on the pandemic’s devastation on the nation after more than two years.

“This pandemic isn’t over. Today, we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States – 1 million Covid deaths. One million empty chairs around the family dinner table. Each irreplaceable, irreplaceable losses. Each leaving behind a family, a community, forever changed because of this pandemic. Our hearts go out to all those who are struggling,” Biden said during his opening remarks at the summit, later acknowledging that “around the world, many more millions have died” as a result of the pandemic.

The President told attendees that the global community has “to start working to prevent the next variant, and the next pandemic, now.”

“That’s why I continue to call on Congress here at home to take the urgent action to provide emergency Covid-19 funding that is vital to protect Americans to make sure we’re that we maintain our supplies of Covid-19 test treatments and vaccines, including next generation vaccines that are being developed,” he said, later highlighting the request’s $5 billion proposal “to keep up our global partnership in the fight against Covid-19.”

In a proclamation issued Thursday ordering flags to be flown at half-staff to mark the milestone, Biden wrote that the nation “must not grow numb to such sorrow.”

Throughout the pandemic, severe outcomes have disproportionately affected older Americans, as well as minority populations. About three-quarters of all Covid-19 deaths have been among seniors, including more than a quarter among those age 85 and older, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And while racial and ethnic disparities have lessened over the course of the pandemic, the risk of dying from Covid-19 has been about two times higher for Black, Hispanic and American Indian people compared with White people in the US.

Vaccinations have saved millions of lives, but about half of all Covid-19 deaths in the US have happened over the past year – a time in which vaccines have been widely available for everyone age 5 and older.

The government has not shared an official estimate of how many vaccinated people have died of Covid-19, but a CNN analysis of data from the CDC shows that deaths in recent months have been much more evenly split between vaccinated and unvaccinated people as highly transmissible variants take hold, vaccine protection wanes and booster uptake stagnates. According to the CDC, however, the risk of dying from Covid-19 is still about five times higher for unvaccinated people than it is for vaccinated people.

Overall, death rates have been higher in the Northeast region of the country and lowest in the West, according to JHU data. But at the state level, death rates have been highest in Mississippi, Arizona and Oklahoma – each with more than 400 total Covid-19 deaths for every 100,000 people – compared with Vermont and Hawaii, which have had about 100 deaths for every 100,000 people.

Thursday’s summit is aimed at “redoubling” efforts to control Covid-19 and preparing the world for future variants of the coronavirus or the next deadly pandemic, two senior administration officials said.

The event, which is also co-hosted by Germany, Indonesia, Senegal and Belize, is calling for countries to invest in the new Global Pandemic Preparedness and Health Security fund at the World Bank, and the US announced that its pledge will increase to $450 million, up from the initially promised amount of $250 million. The summit will also highlight an additional $3.1 billion in new funding commitments from countries around the world to combat Covid-19.

But as Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other Cabinet-level officials take part in Thursday summit, which will urge other wealthy countries to ramp up their coronavirus relief efforts in support of poorer countries, the Biden administration’s efforts to secure further funding from Congress to support coronavirus relief efforts will be front and center.

Throughout the summit, administration officials on Thursday will issue a “loud call” to Congress to act and take “urgent action, not empty words,” one senior official said.

“If the US is to remain a leader – protecting Americans and the world from dangerous disease threats – we need Congress to act now to provide more funding for the Covid response,” the second official added.

In addition to the summit’s two overarching goals, there are three key priorities that will guide Thursday’s gathering: preventing complacency on Covid-19, preventing deaths from the pandemic, and preventing future variants and pandemics – with one official noting it is “not a matter of if, but when.”

This will be the second global Covid-19 summit the White House has hosted, following one in September.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, deputy national security adviser Daleep Singh and White House Covid response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha are also taking part in Thursday’s summit.

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