Biden urges mass mask-wearing as world waits for Covid vaccine

President-elect Joe Biden urged all Americans to wear a mask while the US awaits a vaccine, as he warned the nation faced a “dark winter” amid a sharp increase in the number of Covid-19 cases.

“I implore you, wear a mask,” Mr Biden said on Monday after meeting with his new coronavirus task force. “A mask is not a political statement, but it is a good way to start pulling the country together.”

Speaking after Pfizer and BioNTech said the vaccine they were developing appeared to be more than 90 per cent effective, Mr Biden welcomed the development, but said the announcements did not change the “urgent reality” of spiking infections.

“We know the single most effective thing we can do to stop the spread of Covid is wear a mask,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who you voted for . . . We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democrat or Republican lives, American lives.”

Mr Biden was speaking two days after the Associated Press and US networks declared that he had won the election. His remarks stood in stark contrast to the approach taken by President Donald Trump, who has rarely worn a mask and has frequently mocked others for doing so.

“It’s clear that this vaccine, even if it is approved, will not be widely available for many months yet to come,” Mr Biden said. “The challenge before us right now is still immense and growing, and so is the need for bold action to fight this pandemic. We are still facing a dark winter.”

Coronavirus cases in the US have surged during the autumn to record levels that far surpass the peak of the summer outbreak that hammered the sunbelt, while the death toll has reached almost 230,000.

The virus is spreading rapidly in Midwestern states, hitting them harder on a population-adjusted basis than states such as New York and Florida that were battered during the first waves of the pandemic.

Even the White House is in the middle of a second outbreak, with Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, and Ben Carson, the housing and urban development secretary, testing positive over the past week. Both men attended an election night party in the White House last Tuesday.

Mr Biden was speaking after unveiling the members of his coronavirus task force. The group will be co-chaired by David Kessler, a former head of the Food and Drug Administration, Vivek Murthy, a former US surgeon general, and Marcella Nunez-Smith, a professor at Yale University.

It will also include Rick Bright, the former career official in the Trump administration who became a whistleblower, accusing members of the administration of awarding contracts based on political connections and cronyism.

Mr Biden’s team will begin to develop plans for how to distribute a vaccine, and liaise with states on their lockdown plans for the expected winter wave. State officials said on Monday they had not yet been contacted by the Biden transition team, although they said it was very early in the process.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter

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