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President Biden abruptly postponed a Monday afternoon speech aimed at reassuring Americans that Santa’s sleigh will arrive on time — as his administration’s focus shifted from a ports backlog and inflation to the potentially more contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Hours earlier, the president urged the public not to “panic” as scientists review data about the variant, which boasts an unusually high number of mutations which may enable it to better evade coronavirus vaccines currently in use.
After his midday remarks, Biden went ahead as planned with an early-afternoon roundtable with CEOs of major US companies to discuss the supply chain crunch. He was then scheduled to deliver remarks on that crisis at 3:45 p.m.
But with just 21 minutes notice, the White House pulled the plug on Biden’s speech, rescheduling it for Wednesday.
The rare scheduling move sparked a flurry of speculation, but Biden aides said he wanted to spend more time with the CEOs, including Corie Barry of Best Buy, KS Choi of Samsung and Josh Silverman of Etsy, who joined him in person, and Doug McMillon of Walmart, who joined virtually.
A White House official, responding to a flood of inquiries, said that Biden “held a pool spray with reporters at the top of the CEO event and wanted to ensure ample time spent with the business leaders who traveled to the White House today.”
As advertised, the supply-chain speech would have focused on the Biden administration’s “work to strengthen the nation’s supply chains, lower everyday costs for families, and ensure that shelves are well-stocked this holiday season.”
On Friday, the White House announced a ban on travel to the US by non-Americans from eight African countries. That ban took effect Monday in response to the new variant, which threatens to drive a new wave of infections and death nearly two years after the pandemic emerged in Wuhan, China.
see also Biden: Omicron variant a ‘cause for concern,’ not ‘panic’
The president said authorities are in contact with the three companies that make COVID-19 vaccines about possibly tweaking them in response to the Omicron mutations.
“In the event, hopefully unlikely, that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond in this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool,” Biden said.
Biden also urged Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine or booster shots if they have not already done so, and to wear masks when indoors. He added that federal health officials aren’t urging state and local officials to adopt lockdowns “for now.”
When asked if shutdowns are off the table, Biden said: “Yes, for now, yes …. if people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there’s no need for lockdowns.”