President Joe Biden urges Americans to get behind his plan to tackle the new omicron variant through wider availability of vaccines and shots, but without new major restrictions on daily life.

"The actions I'm announcing are ones that all Americans can rally behind and should unite us in the fight against Covid," says Biden says. (Reuters)

The Biden administration has sought to ramp up its pandemic response following US detection of the Omicron coronavirus variant this week, making at-home Covid-19 tests available free of charge, accelerating its push for the booster shots, and tightening rules for travellers.

President Joe Biden unveiled the plan on Thursday in which private health insurance companies will be required to reimburse customers for the cost of over-the-counter at-home Covid-19 tests.

For the uninsured, at-home tests will be made available at no charge at community testing sites.

At least eight over-the-counter rapid antigen tests have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and health insurers already cover the more accurate PCR tests done through laboratories that are not FDA-approved for at-home use.

The US Department of Health and Human Services along with pharmacy companies will launch a public information campaign to encourage booster shots, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) revised guidance this week recommending all adults get a booster.

Pharmacies will reach out to customers and increase working hours. 

The government's Medicare insurance programme for those over 65 as well as the disabled and the Medicaid programme for low-income people will also make outreach efforts to encourage shots among the millions who rely on them.

READ MORE: Will travel bans halt the spread of Omicron?

Tighter travel requirements 

The US CDC will require inbound international passengers to be tested for Covid-19 within one day of departure, regardless of their vaccination status. 

Mask requirements on airplanes, trains, and public transportation vehicles will be extended through March 18.

The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals and could take effect as early as next week.

CDC officials also have ordered airlines to disclose passenger names and other information for those who have recently been in eight southern African countries that identified early Omicron cases and will provide it to local and state public health agencies.

READ MORE: Findings indicate Omicron was in Europe before South Africa detected it

Increasing treatment supplies

The administration will launch hundreds of family vaccination clinics nationwide that will allow eligible parents, grandparents and children to get initial vaccines and booster shots with a "one-stop-shop," the White House said.

Community health centres will host the clinics throughout December. 

Mobile health clinics will also be deployed across the country, starting in Washington and New Mexico.

Retail pharmacies, including CVS Health Corp and Rite Aid Corp will start allowing family-based appointment scheduling, the White House said.

The White House said any new Covid-19 treatment pills approved by US regulators would be "equitably accessible to all Americans, regardless of their income or their zip code," adding that it was working to secure 13 million doses of antiviral courses.

READ MORE: US health panel endorses Merck's Covid pill

Source: Reuters